If you want to feel your brain dancing, listen to Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out. The lyrics give you opposite meanings for the same phrase and your brain begins to swerve between them. It’s the closest most of us get to being Schrödinger’s cat.
As soon as you know that the phrasal verb Take Me Out is the title of Franz Ferdinand’s song, your brain starts shuffling through all the possible meanings. You wait patiently for the singer, Alex Kapranos, to provide a clue and a context for you to choose the right one.
Franz Ferdinand are known for their surreal lyrics, so Take Me Out could be an unloved library book‘s monologue, or a dustbin feeling restless on collection day. All meanings are possible until Alex Kapranos makes things clear.
Alex plays you, like a cat with a ball of wool. He starts his song with words of love: ‘So if you’re lonely/You know I’m here waiting for you.’
“Aah,” thinks your brain. This time, for this song, take me out must mean, as the Cambridge Dictionary has it: ‘invite me somewhere to do something that you’ve planned and will pay for‘ in the sense of ‘take me out on a romantic date.’ Forget library books, dustbins or bank loans. Focus on romance.
Just as you relax into the ‘right’ meaning, Alex throws you a surprise. He sings: ‘I’m just a cross hair‘ and you feel your brain turning somersaults. Suddenly, in a love song, take me out also means ‘kill me or destroy me,’ just as snipers ‘take out‘ enemy soldiers.
As the song continues, you feel yourself swerving between the possible meanings of take me out. Each time Alex sings the phrase – and there are 7 times – you make your choice between love and death. You choose and you understand. Most times you hold both meanings in your head at once. Love and destruction.
One question – as Alex sings, do you ever hear him shout? Watch his face:
He doesn’t shout, does he? The power of the song lies in the contrast between the steadiness of Alex’s voice and the crashing music all around him. It reflects the contrasting possibilities of the phrase Take Me Out. Alex doesn’t shout. Yes, sometimes he increases the volume, but, watch his face and you’ll see that his demeanour is unchanged. He embodies a sort of ironic romance.
I asked the question about shouting because I’ve seen Take Me Out becoming a popular choice in international singing competitions and I’ve seen a few contestants misaligning themselves with the crash of the drums and guitar and starting to shout the words. Lose the contrast and you lose the power of the song. Let the music crash around you and be still.
Which doesn’t mean to say that you have to parrot Alex Kapranos. Watch another Scottish singer, Rachel Sermanni cover Take Me Out, softly, differently, and very effectively, with an accordion, a horn section and a traditional fiddler to help her:
Understand the song. Respect Alex Kapranos’ choices and then make your own.
By the way, if English isn’t your first language: be careful to give the word here as much room as it needs when you sing Take Me Out. It’s an important little word. Sometimes here needs to sound spacious, sometimes it needs to be small.
Work out how to give here the space it needs when it comes after the word leaving. The ng of leaving needs to be pronounced, but don’t let that ng get too sticky. Here needs to sound clear.
Here has a diphthong at its heart. Never, ever waste a diphthong when you sing in English. Don’t sing here exactly the same throughout Take Me Out. Think about what you feel, leaving here alone. Disappointment? Resignation? Relief? It’s all there to be sung into here.
Enjoy singing the song. There’s a joy to the way Franz Ferdinand play with the English language. Phrasal verbs in songs are always fun – remember the snake weaving his lies with Take Me In?
By the way: I had no idea that Alex Kapranos was singing cross hair when I heard the song in 2004. I thought he was singing ‘I’m just across here.’ I couldn’t imagine cross hair being in a love song, so my brain substituted something a bit more likely. I’d only heard the song, not seen the video. I got the idea of love and destruction from ‘And if you leave here, you leave me broken, shattered, I lie’ and from Alex’s tone of voice. He didn’t sound hopeful.
© Sing Better English, 2016