Love is supposed to be about your feelings for another person, but the hard truth is that it’s really about your feelings for yourself. Tales from the Black Cloud explores the self-centered nature of love and acknowledges that it is as much about one’s own self-image as it is about adoring someone else. And that can hurt like hell for both parties.
These songs are autobiographical, chronicling a time songwriter Chris Lopez says he didn’t want to write about, but felt he had to. He wanted the music to be “as unstable and unpredictable as my mental state at the time,” and it is. The songs on this album are their own unique beasts, with nontraditional structures that mix hard rock, acoustic balladry, and synth pop. There are hints of Johnny Marr, Brian Wilson, the Mael brothers, David Bowie, and even a little bit of ‘80s cock rock riffs, sometimes all within the same song, but they blend together into a singular, compelling noise. The vocal styles range from a whisper to a scream, tender pleading to frank anger. This is an album that needs to be listened to, not played in the background. Just when you think you know where it’s going musically, it shifts gears.
This album is the story, as Lopez puts it, of “the sad realization that nothing really went the way I imagined it would go. It represents my loss of innocence and the realizations that the heroes in my life are just as vulnerable as I am.” The protagonist wrestles with the desire to love and be loved and feels the pain that comes from realizing that the one he loves doesn’t quite love him back the way he wants her to. As much as it hurts, and as much as he knows “it’s not you, it’s me,” he can’t help but feel betrayed by her inability to respond to him in the way he wants her to. It may be because she still has feelings for someone else (“Tales From The Black Cloud”, “A Day in the Life of Danny Pink”) or it may be because his own actions have driven her away (“Can We Be Depressed Together?”), but that doesn’t make the pain any less, especially when she can’t or won’t be open about what’s wrong (“Ode to Insecurity,” “L’appel du Vide”). Or she may just not understand him as well as he thinks she does (“Early Morning Tragedy”). There are moments of ecstasy as the pair connect on a deep and intimate level followed by despair when the connection turns out to have been one-sided (“Patience and Ego in the Backyard”).
Tangential to the relationship is the narrator’s realization that his own struggles to preserve his mental health and to deal with the fallout from the unexpected crumbling of family relationships are coloring how he sees everything. He seeks refuge from his personal problems in his muse, but she has her own issues (“I need your help to get me out, but you’re too busy with the dead,” from “Ode to Insecurity”). On some level, he knows that he is using the relationship like a drug and hates himself for it (“I’m standing on the edge of self-destruction / But then when you are around / My mind seems to take on a different state / I know it’s fucked up to use you as my anti-depressant” from the album opener, “Monster”). She makes him feel better, but is that because of how she sees him or because of how he sees himself when he’s with her?
Simultaneously, his parents’ marriage is falling apart and he realizes that everything he learned from watching their relationship was wrong. His mother in particular is “the one we ought to blame / She really needs to find herself? / I say she needs to get some help” (“Familial Regress”). How much of his mother does he see in this girl? In “Patience and Ego in the Backyard,” he cries “How could I know what love is when my mother taught me wrong? / She hid so many secrets from me … I guess I’m saying that you and I, / We both could learn together.” At the end of the song, he makes the interesting observation that she “deserves to know the meaning of true love.” What is true here? Is it the traditional truth of their love for each other or the more complicated truth of seeing each other the way they really are instead of the way they each want to present themselves?
In the final song on the album, “We’ve Discovered Black Rainbows,” the narrator touches on the idea that he will have to hide parts of himself in order not to “drag you down with me,” yet she seems to be willing and able to embrace him, sadness and all. He closes the album with an optimistic observation: “I feel determined / To fight the evil that’s within me / I think we’ll both get through this / We still have time to make this year a good one.” That’s the thing about love, isn’t it? You open up your heart to someone else and you hope that person will accept everything about you and reflect the image you have of yourself back to you. Sometimes the reflection isn’t quite what you pictured even though they accept you. And that has to suffice. Tales from the Black Cloud doesn’t have any answers, only empathy. And that suffices.
- Villate McKitrick
released August 12, 2016
All songs written, produced, and arranged by Chris Lopez.
Artwork by Juliette Lukasewycz.
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