One of the most strange and wonderful things about music as an artform is the ability it has to transport us to genuine emotional sites and states. A few bars is all it takes to reduce us to blubbing bitter salty tears, or laughing the robust, perfect laugh of a memory well remembered. Music shuttles us through time and space, depositing us at the places we'd do well to forget just as readily as it does to the ones that'll have us smiling into the ether as we draw our last sickened breath in a Catford bedsit.
But you know this because you are a person with a relationship, however minor or major it may be, to music. You've sunk into the depths of the kind of indulgent depression that only a few hours on YouTube can offer, and you've resurrected ex-lovers through old playlists. Thanks to the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2, a journey to Carpetright can be like navigating a particularly densely packed emotional minefield.
There are, however, a few emotions that music rarely produces within us. Abject disgust, the kind we'd feel upon viewing the aftermath of an industrial accident or being forced to attend an Adam Sandler marathon, for example. No one, as far as I know, has ever listened to a record and felt the same kind of stress that accompanies sending an unpleasant text to the wrong person. Then there's a feeling that none of us, not even the biggest of sadists, not even actual cucks, enjoy: embarrassment. If there's any song that I can think of which fills my entire body with actual, acute, physical embarrassment it is "Lazy" by X-Press 2 and David Byrne.
First unleashed on the British public 15 years ago this week, it remains an oddly affecting record; just not necessarily in the way that anyone involved intended. A lot, obviously, happens in the span of 15 years. That's the difference between the extremities of post-war austerity measures and the swinging sixties, between Thatcher and Blair, between Graham Norton and Daniel Radcliffe. 2002 feels, like the recent past always does, unknowably distant, somehow both living and existent, and moribund, dead, nothing but a collection of long-buried half-memories.
The internet lets us see the cultural landscapes we thought had receded into the horizon again, in grainy 240p glory. The adverts of our E number-addled youth are there to watch, as are the news reports of all the major global incidents we were too young to be fully cognisant of. All of life is there, stored away into gigantic virtual Russian dolls of consumable content, each click leading you further and further away from the original source and site of interest.
I'd done it again; I'd clicked myself into oblivion and here I was watching a video of a chubby man-child lolling about on his sofa, his life made hilariously difficult by the contraptions he'd had installed to enable his laziness. Very clever stuff!
The song has drifted through my head for the best part of those 15 years, stumbling around my inner sanctum like Banquo at the feast, arriving at moments when I thought I'd rid myself of the thing. Weeding a grandparent's garden, cooking pasta from scratch, working out exactly how long it'd take me to walk from my flat to the Himalayas if I were capable of walking on water. I hear those gossamer-thin "duh duh duhs," that anchor the track, the amateur dramatics of the piano, Byrne sadly breathing the whole thing into being with an "Ahhhhhhhhhhhmmmmm," that seemingly goes on forever and ever and ever.
I'm embarrassed by every line of the song. I'm embarrassed by the way Byrne intones every single word of the fucking thing with the kind of knowing smirk only a man who resides in the upper echelon of contemporary culture and thus is able to demand sacks and sacks and sacks of cash for tossing off any old bollocks can. I'm embarrassed, too, by the the fact that the whole thing sounds like something you'd hear on an advert for a new dishwasher; insipid and whooshing, a crystal-clear work surface that's never been worked on of a record, an anodyne object that seemingly has no reason to exist.
But what I'm mainly embarrassed by is that fact that for all my objections to it, I like the song. I like "Lazy." I don't necessarily like it enough to voluntarily hunt it down on Spotify, or to patiently sit by the front door waiting for the Discogs man to deliver a cracked and worn old 12" copy, but I do like it enough to nudge the radio up a little higher if I ever come across it on my occasional forays into the world of driving. I vacillate between disgust and downright pleasure, like one of those blokes who really, really, really loves offal. In many ways, the pause between the syllables in the word "stop," which Byrne mangles into "STAH….PUUUUHH," so close to the mic that he might as well be licking your inner ear canal, is my equivalent of chowing down on a steaming portion of Andouillette—the shit-smelling French dish that looks like a condom stuffed with regurgitated innards.
The elixir we swallow each and every time we decide to check in on the person we once were in a world which once was is a strong cocktail. Usually any note of embarrassment, any mild tang of shame, is the result of painful memorial retrieval—a self-inflicted attack on the self that sees you scratching away at emotional scabs which had healed into a surface invisibility. In the case of "Lazy," this isn't quite true: it turns out that, yep, it is the song that's horrible, not just the person you were when it came out.
And yet, in the same way we can't help but look back at the old photos on Facebook that we know will transport us to places we longed to escape from, there's a perverse pleasure to be found in submitting ourselves to the embarrassments of the past; back then, back there, you had a future ahead of you. That future left you with nothing but remorse and regret and memories you'd much rather repress. But you can't, so you learn to accept them and re-open them and there you are, stood in the midday sun, singing along to "Lazy" by X-Press 2, without a care in the world.
Until you realise that you'll remember this moment in 15 years time, obviously.