Certain Songs #967: The Long Winters – “Ultimatum”

Album: Putting The Days To Bed
Year: 2006

John Roderick thought so much of “Ultimatum” that he recorded two entirely separate versions of it. The first one was the title track of the 2005 EP that also contained “The Commander Thinks Aloud,” and it was lovely, wistful and acoustic.

The other version is loud, raggedly and very much electric, and it’s the highlight of the album that turned me onto The Long Winters in the first place, 2006’s Putting The Days To Bed.

Blue in the broad light of day
Your claws are snagged on my face
Say it, I wish we were naked and
I wish that I could take it
When you turn on me

Limning a relationship that’s got Roderick simulataneously enthralled and terrified, “Ultimatum” almost instantly blasts off with a corkscrew lead guitar twisting around a jumpy rhythm guitar and an ever-present organ, with Roderick over under sideways down as he spins around into the chorus.

My arms miss you
My hands miss you
The stars sing
I’ve got this song in my head
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

That’s all for the first chorus, but the second time, that “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” is just a pause while he gathers his thoughts for the devastating back half of the chorus, where as the drums stutter underneath, he pulls out an incredibly long melody line as if that’s going to make what he’s singing any better.

I don’t want my words twisted
I don’t want you to listen too closely
Or wait for me impatiently
And I hope that I can keep seeing you
As long you as you don’t say you’re falling in love

And after that, he takes every ounce of passive-agressiveness in those lyrics and channels into a probing, near-psychedelic guitar solo that somehow underlines every ounce of fear and lust he’s been singing about. After that, there’s not much more to say, except that he’s worried that she’s about to forget. But what? Him? Or forget that he doesn’t want her to say she’s in love with him. Which is worse?

And its that ambivalence that makes “Ultimatum” such a remarkable thing, as it simultaneously moves forward and gets out of the way, all the while sticking dead center in the pleasure center where all great pop songs live. And while I don’t hold out much hope for more Long Winters music — it’s been over a decade at this point — a song like “Ultimatum” is why I’d very much like there to be more.

“Ultimatum”

“Ultimatum” solo acoustic

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