City Center: Lying To Second-Graders
As songs about growing up go, "Teardrop Children" — the final cut from City Center's second album, Redeemer — errs pretty firmly on the side of pessimism. In the first verse, Fred Thomas (or a character he has created) struggles to offer advice to a second-grader who's had a miserable day. "Well, maybe 20 years from now, you'll owe every good thing to how terribly you feel [today]," Thomas sings, as any hard-nosed parent might tell a child going through a rough time. In reality, Thomas himself doesn't buy the sentiment: "Well, given the chance I might have never begun," he sings later in the song, toward the coda. That's a hefty statement, and probably not the best thing to mention to a young kid (which Thomas doesn't), but it's safe to say that some personal trials can never justify themselves, even over the course of years; second-graders certainly deserve to be lied to from time to time.
If the words provide the real emotional center of "Teardrop Children" — there's a striking second verse, too — the structure nudges the listener in the right direction. The song's patient, ethereal introduction serves the mood especially well, setting a somber tone before a crunchy drum track and a durable guitar line slowly fade in. The lack of a chorus serves as addition by subtraction, giving the piece a dreamier, more amorphous feel where listeners are left to drift between different scenes instead of being ushered through them.
The results may be inherently depressing, but given Thomas' wide range of other projects — from Saturday Looks Good to Me to Chain and the Gang — it just highlights his versatility as a songwriter. (City Center's other half, Ryan Howard, shouldn't go unmentioned, either.) Call it a feather in a fully plumed cap if you want, but "Teardrop Children" hits too close to home to feel like an exercise in gloom.
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