This exploration into what it is to have, and to subsequently lose, a Plus One packs a lyrical punch that’s easily missed. Your Plus One, aka your companion, your lover (and yes, perhaps your Plus One on a guestlist, probably the source of this title) has been mentioned in songs many times before. But are these people or songs any less special just because you’ve had or heard more than one? Here, Will Sheff and Okkervil River take us through a collection of these songs, with a plus one, and questions our feelings toward them.
And no one wants a tune about the 100th luft balloon that was seen shooting from the window of your room,
To be a spot against the sky’s colossal gloom,
And land deflated in some neighbor state that’s strewn with 99 others.
I’ll never get bored of imagery as heart wrenching as this. When our beloved balloon lands, we’re suddenly left questioning our initial over-reaction to it’s beauty and uniqueness. You don’t need to notice the reference to ’99 Red Balloons’ (or Luft Balloons to take it’s original German title) by Nena, itself a lesson in over reacting, to feel touched by such sentiment.
Within four minutes, a series of equally compelling images are concluded by the final thoughts from the Eighth Chinese Brother, who is a continuation of REM’s ‘7 Chinese Brothers’, a song based on this story. Despite being a snobs dream, the melody keeps it firmly floored as a pop song, because it aims to not be a tough listen (one of my definitions of what pop is, in its broadest sense). You don’t NEED to know your pop history to enjoy it, but if you do you’ll never get bored of listening. The lyrical rhythm is exceptional, and it’s easy not to notice the modest playing from the rest of the group, with only the piano aiming for any level of individuality as it tinkers away from another room. But they exist to control the pace and direction of the narrative and to focus your attention on the words that matter, which they do expertly well.
I won’t tell you what I take from these lyrics, as with all songs it’s up to you to take what you want from it. All I will say is this. Let us give thanks to the existence of the 100th Luft Balloon, and every tune written about it. We wouldn’t be the same without them.