Required Listening: A New Brain

Nick Hutson chooses And They’re Off from A New Brain as his required listening:

“In families when the betting is done – it’s a joke to believe someone has won”

In a recent episode with Jeremy Sams – I was discussing with him about the art of lyric writing and he brought up the composer and lyricist William Finn (whose work includes The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, A New Brain, Elegies and Falsettos). A New Brain is a musical I’ve never actually seen, but I was struck by two particularly evocative numbers on the cast recording –  And They’re Off and Sailing

I’ve chosen And They’re Off as my song of the week as I think the device of using a horse race to describe break down of a marriage is really clever. The song starts at a gentle pace and keeps rollicking forward until we reach the final chorus with such vitality that it feels actually feels though you’re there watching the race (or the divorce) happening.  

Lyrically there are clever moments, my favourite lyric is probably “Betting of course is hell on the horses” – it’s always nice to hear a song that does PROPER RHYMING.  I also like the idea of changing “And THEY’RE off” to “And HE’S off” in reference to the father leaving – I think the song needs this sharp turn of the screw and the fact “there’s blood on the ground” by the end… well, that says all one needs to know about the break up of a family. 

The song is also beautifully arranged by Jason Robert Brown, who shows some incredibly virtuosic string writing – at one point the strings imitate the horses whining. I am also quite the fan of buttons at the end of songs. 

It’s a brilliantly powerful song – so take a listen!