121. Song No. 1,693: “Catastrophe,” Rainer Maria
Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, 2006
For me, Rainer Maria peaked with 2004’s Long Knives Drawn, an album that sounds as simultaneously lusty and listless as the pea-soup humidity of East Coast high summers that normal people hate but I relish every year: Everything before sounds just a little too unfocused; everything after sounds just a little too polished. Still, Rainer Maria operating just a hair below their best is some mighty good music regardless and, honestly, I think my nitpicks originate more from Long Knives being my introduction to them in a way that imprinted that album’s particular sound on me as the ideal than from anything based on any real or valuable criticism.
And, besides, there are gems in every one of their albums to justify Rainer Maria’s place as one of my favorites, even if one of my least-favorite lyrics lands with a thud in an otherwise stellar track (still looking at you, “Life of Leisure,” a song I love but is proof of how one bad line really can hit harder than everything else done beautifully combined).
This, the band’s fifth studio album and three-years-later follow-up to Long Knives, is less ethereal and feels a little more jaded than its predecessor. I think the reflection and wistful contemplation at the heart of the earlier album is what makes it feel a little warmer to me; this song, Catastrophe Keeps Us Together‘s opening track, establishes an album that’s going to be a little more hot-blooded.
But I think it also seamlessly bridges the gap between the preceding album and the songs that comprise the rest of this one, with all the earnest vulnerability and frank plaintiveness of Long Knives at the core of this introduction to Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, neatly repackaged in something with a little more of an edge — a feeling that gets a little weightier with every bridge image and invocation of journeys across daunting divides strategically nestled into the lyrics.
There is something I find irresistible in people who don’t need to dress up their emotions, who are able to be as unpretentiously straightforward as one has to be to get anywhere with matters of the heart: You won’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it for the right reasons, and emotions need to be handled independent of ego to get there. That’s a lot of pride-swallowing, and it’s fucking hard. And it’s something I find just as delightful in music and other art that knows how to honestly reflect on the most important parts of these inherently messy truths.
It annoys me that “Life of Leisure,” which immediately follows “Catastrophe,” is marred by one lyrical bummer because it is so good otherwise. It is anthemic and declarative and raw and so indefatigable in its heartsick goal, which is proving a little more challenging to sustain than the rosy hue of young love made it seem. Both of the tracks introducing Catastrophe Keeps Us Together are such wonderful and intense foils for each other as the latter song rails against the indignation of being regarded as a thing to be turned on and off at the object’s convenience; the contrasting hope and optimistically singular focus that gives “Catastrophe” and its determined eye on the prize is what makes its open heart charming. This song believes so fiercely in its happy ending that it celebrates the journey to come, a mantra that evolves throughout the song as it winds and wails to a quieted, contemplative end on its way to the next track, still fueled by determination rather than disappointment:
But I’ve got a plan
I’m gonna find you
At the end
Of the world…