Drowning Nightmare 1 was the opening song of Swimmer One’s first album, The Regional Variations. (There’s also a Drowning Nightmare 2, but we’ll come to that later). Conventional wisdom says you should put your strongest, most immediately arresting song up front so you reel in your listeners straight away, which is why so many pop albums open with a hit single. I tend to prefer opening songs that act as a prologue, beckoning you in and setting the scene rather than hitting you over the head with a big hook: whether they be understated prologues like September from David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive or Festive Road from the Divine Comedy’s first album Liberation, or knowingly OTT prologues like the Orchestral Intro from Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach, or Suite II Overture from Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. It suggests confidence, I think. And it’s always better to come across as confident than to come across as needy.
Drowning nightmare 1 is neither an obviously understated prologue nor an overstated one. I was probably thinking of album openers like Skin & Bones by the Sundays and Is This It by the Strokes (albums that could have opened with Here’s Where The Story Ends and The Modern Age but chose to put those songs second – now that’s confidence). But the song does have an unusual structure that feels more like an intro than a complete piece – there’s a verse, another verse, then something that sounds like it’s going to be the chorus but turns not to be, then something else that sounds like it might be the chorus but turns out to be the ending. And then it’s over, prompting the question ‘ok, now what?’ (Largs Hum is what.)
It’s one of my favourite Swimmer One songs, and also one of our darkest – the nightmare it describes is about being on a TV chat show which for some reason is being filmed on a sinking ship, with a host who continues to ask his guests banal, intrusive and increasingly explicit questions about their sex lives even as the whole room fills up with water. The audience, meanwhile, is so absorbed in the spectacle that nobody seems to have noticed that they’re all about to die. Over a decade on, I think it’s still a pretty good metaphor for the times we live in, in which we obsess over celebrities and pop culture while stumbling towards a global environmental catastrophe in which sea levels are likely to rise to a point where they engulf thousands of us. * As I write this, Venice is in the midst of its own drowning nightmare.
* Yes, I’m aware of the irony of making this point in a self-indulgent song blog.
A wee footnote. Like various other Swimmer One and Seafieldroad songs, Drowning nightmare 1 has had a second life in recent years as trailer music for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival; every SMHAF trailer since 2015 has featured one of our songs, which pleases me a lot. In fact it’s now my ambition to get every single song Swimmer One ever released into a trailer. Between SMHAF and a couple of other festivals/arts events we’re already about a quarter of the way there. If you’ve got a festival you need trailer music for, do get in touch.