The Infinite Jukebox: The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Tiny Children’


I have an indeterminate relationship with The Teardrop Explodes. ‘Reward’ was an irrepressible burst of joy, with some of the greatest non-soul horns ever to decorate the top 10, and I had a major Thing for the re-recorded single version of ‘Treason’. But the wider world of the album diffused the energy of such individual songs without replacing it with melodies of the same standard.
A couple of the succeeding singles were strong without even scratching the superstructure of the chart. One of these was the enigmatic ‘Tiny Children’. It had slipped through the cracks in the floorboards of my memory until it appeared in a YouTube sidebar, an omission that suggests the need for an urgent replaying. For this song is many things but one of the them that it is unforgivably lovely.
When first I heard it, I was captivated by the sound, the utter simplicity. There are only two instruments on this track, an organ extemporising on a minimalistic melody that obliviates the need to develop its theme and, over the coda, a distant drum, echoing on three beats, 2 and 1, and 2 and 1, as we who have listened sit in silence.
Over this limpid, eliding melody Cope sings, using his upper register without the sense of straining for power that marked the rest of his work with the band. His voice stands separate from the organ, still and detached. You imagine that he has his eyes closed as he raises his face, seeking a purity in his expression.
What he sings is as fragile as the melody. There is a YouTube video that connects this song to child abduction and abuse, and in his immaterial way, this may be what Cope is expressing, but his words are abstracted lines, connecting by succeeding instead of continuous meaning. Sometimes the words explode in your mind, creating unshakable empathies: Cope sings helplessly of calling someone’s name in Colin’s house (the song was written in the house of a friend called Colin), implying that there is no answer.
Later he sings of making a meal of ‘this wonderful despair I feel’. The song is composed of this, fractured lines whose leap from one to another obeys a logic completely alien to the audience. What Cope sees inside is something we cannot see ourselves, yet his performance convinces us that it is something that we should shudder before wanting to too clearly understand. What it is shakes him, shakes his faith in whatever we has previously believed in. Oh no, he sings plaintively, I’m not sure about the things that I care about.
Oh no, I’m not sure, not any more.
This undermining is so fundamental that he repeats these lines, leaving us with this finality, as the organ takes advantage of a greater freedom, with the melody, and the solo drum pounds a slow motion military beat.
And now this fragile song has returned to my mind, I find that though I don’t understand it in words, I cannot listen to it without tears rising to my throat, if not my eyes, because on another level I understand that this song, as flimsy as a spiderweb, and as weightless as it too, is about sadness and bewilderment, and beauty, and the inability to distinguish between these and misery.
No-one can live here too long.

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