Song of the Day #187: ‘Fox in the Snow’ – Belle & Sebastian

sinisterI really like the word ‘twee.’ It’s one of those words (and I think there’s a name for this) that sounds like what it means. Sort of like ‘guttural’ or ‘effervescent.’ I mean, can you think of a more twee word than ‘twee?’

Twee is also the most common adjective I’ve seen applied to Belle and Sebastian. They are certainly among the more delicate sounding bands out there. One could argue that their music is for pale art class geeks who would fall into a seizure if they heard genuine rock and roll.

I get that. But done right, I find delicacy in popular music a marvelous thing. And Belle and Sebastian most definitely do it right.

‘Fox in the Snow,’ off the band’s second and most-acclaimed album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, was the first Belle and Sebastian song I fell in love with. It’s so light it’s in danger of floating away, which is a big part of its charm. It drifts along on rolling piano chords, a gently picked acoustic guitar and a tapping drumbeat before the strings kick in halfway through to further class up the joint.

Lyrically, Murdoch is again exploring his favorite themes of loneliness and missed opportunities. The metaphoric fox — cold, hungry and alone — gives way first to a girl who, like Mary Jo, finds solace in books and her imagination; and then to a boy who rides a bicycle around town until his legs ache, with nowhere to go and nobody to see.

The third verse, though, offers some hope. We meet another child in the snow, but she is enjoying herself, taking advantage of this opportunity that “only happens once a year.” Murdoch draws a parallel between that winter snowfall and childhood itself, which “only happens once a lifetime.”

Beautiful stuff, you magnificent twee bastard!

Fox in the snow, where do you go
To find something you could eat?
Cause the word out on the street is you are starving
Don’t let yourself go hungry now
Don’t let yourself grow cold
Fox in the snow

Girl in the snow, where do you go
To find someone who will do?
To tell someone all the truth before it kills you
They listen to your crazy laugh
Before you hang a right
And disappear from sight

What do they know anyway?
You’ll read it in a book
What do they know anyway?
You’ll read it in a book tonight

Boy on the bike, what are you like
As you cycle round the town?
You’re going up, you’re going down
You’re going nowhere
Its not as if they’re paying you
Its not as if its fun
At least not anymore

When your legs are black and blue
It’s time to take a break
When your legs are black and blue
It’s time to take a holiday

Kid in the snow, way to go
It only happens once a year
It only happens once a lifetime
Make the most of it
Second just to being born
Second to dying too
What else would you do?

Fox in the snow…

13 thoughts on “Song of the Day #187: ‘Fox in the Snow’ – Belle & Sebastian

  1. Kerrie Rueda says:

    It’s called onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they mean). 🙂 It’s a great word in and of itself, and I love what it means. I also love “twee.”
    This is a really lovely little song and I get what you mean about it almost floating away somehow. I think it’s clever that he used the fox/kid metaphor for a starving/lonely adult and a child. Very clever indeed. You have to give it to the Scots! 🙂

  2. Clay says:

    I thought onomatopoeia referred to words that describes sounds, like ‘boom’ and ‘pow,’ as opposed to words that mean other things but have the feel of what it is they represent. Maybe it covers both? Regardless, onomatopoeia is definitely a great word!

  3. Amy says:

    I gave a quick look through my handy book of rhetorical devices and I couldn’t find a word to sum up what you mean. Kerrie, as great (and strange) a word as onomatopoeia is, I don’t think that Clay was going for the “boom” “buzz” variety. Though twee arguably could serve both of your needs, effervescent not so much 🙂

    I’m off to teach, so I’ll have to do the enjoyable work of listening to these two Belle entries later today. I’ve enjoyed reading them this morning, so that’s a good indication I’ll like them. Of course, I have to get past my very strong association with the student who introduced me to them years ago. Not that it’s a bad association – just a strong one 😉

  4. Dana says:

    I’ve lived 41 years without ever having heard or used the word “twee..” To me, it just sounds like something a 5 year old says while pointing out the window, as in “Look, ma, a twee.” But maybe that 5 year old is being truly profound in describing the wispy, delicate leaves, and would never use this word to describe an oak:)

    Anyway, another good B&S song, but, I can see the criticism of “sameness” in tone and feel setting in a bit, at least with these selections. Perhaps why I would vaunt the Beatles over them is because the Beatles can go from a Blackbird or In My Life to a Glass Onion or Drive My Car (or a Helter Skelter, which I don’t really like, but still…). It is that range (which you see in other great artists like Costello, Joe jackson, BIlly Joel, Elton John, Springsteen, Sting (Police), etc) that notches them up in my mind. But, alas, the week is young, and maybe you will be posting some B&S rockers that will have me eating twee.

  5. Clay says:

    Nope, no rockers on the horizon. They have strayed from their signature sound, with both good and so-so results, but not a whole lot.

  6. Dana says:

    So, this may underscore my point….If, when they stray from their “signature sound,” they don’t do it so well, should we not give the nod to the blokes from Liverpool who can pull off Revolution and Eleanor Rigby with equal accomplishment?

  7. Clay says:

    The Beatles also did ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Revolution No. 9’ but I don’t hold that against them. And I can’t think of a single Belle & Sebastian song that I don’t like at least a little bit.

    I adore their “typical” sound more than I do the typical sound of any other band, and in the end I give credit to bands that experiment but I judge them mostly on what they do best and most.

    You’re certainly welcome to give the nod to whomever you’d like!

  8. Dana says:

    So if you were on an island and could only take 30 songs from one band, would it be Beatles or B & S?

  9. Clay says:

    Well, I’d prefer to bring a mix tape! But if those were my choices, I’d go with Belle and Sebastian. That’s sort of what I was getting at with the gun-to-the-head scenario, though yours is less violent. 🙂

  10. Dana says:

    See I would go for the more diverse catalog in that case. You feel the B&S top 30 is better than your top 30 beatles songs?

  11. Clay says:

    Yep. And how diverse would your Beatles top 30 be, anyway? It’s sort of like Lyle Lovett, who splits his time between country and the more big band/jazz feel… I bet your top 30 Lyle songs would contain almost exclusively the latter.

  12. Dana says:

    Wow–very high praise for BS:)

    I wouldn’t pick Lyle for my island musician, Amy would. And I wouldn’t do so for the exact reason you mention–lack of diversity (or at least lack of diversity in songs I like since I would not pick any of his country stuff). Beatles would be in contention however, because they truly did cover so many types of rock/pop music and created so many moods with so many outstanding songs. However, I probably would end up going with Costello, who has the diversity and the great tunes.

  13. Amy says:

    This song is immediately familiar, and it’s not because Belle & Sebastian songs sound the same. I don’t listen to enough of them to recognize whether that is true. I think it just has a quality that makes it accessible and complex at the same time. I actually found myself loving the song quite a bit until that “Fox in the snow/ Fox in the snow/ Fox in the snow” ending that was anything but twee.

    Still, overall, a fine song. I can understand why it is among your favorites.

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