Artist: Lizzy McAlpine
Album: five seconds flat
“doomsday” opens with the specificity of poetry: “pull the plug in September / I don’t wanna die in June.” And like good poetry,McAlpine’s songwriting pulls the listener forward, both sonically and lyrically, with the promise of what’s to come, the hope that your questions will be answered. Why, for example, is McAlpine’s narrator flatlining? (Heartbreak, obviously!) And why doesn’t she want to die in June? (Because, uh, TikTok?) Most importantly, why is this song (and its excellent video) so enthralling? (McAlpine is a Berklee-educated star-in-the-making, that’s why.)
This sense of poetry, combined with McAlpine’s spellbinding performance, drives “doomsday.” The song’s narrator, heartbroken and even more talented than she is lovelorn, laments her fate against a beautifully arranged backdrop that brings McAlpine’s words to life. Though the song’s lyrics are occasionally overwrought and situated on well-trod ground, their sincerity and urgency offer a sense of freshness. Sure, the breakup-as-death metaphor is stale, but McAlpine frames it novelly, approaching the story through the lens of agency rather than simply declaring her experience. In love as in life, McAlpine’s narrator tells us, we may have hopes about how things will end, but we don’t have control.
Or do we? Hurt as she is, McAlpine’s narrator hints at a subterranean truth: We are, in fact, primary decision-makers in our lives and romances, and though it’s not entirely up to us how either ends, we are not powerless vessels in those outcomes. But that can be hard to remember before it’s too late, as McAlpine’s narrator explains: “I feel more free than I have in years / six feet in the ground.”
Instrumentally, “doomsday” is at its best when it’s at its most subtle. A brief bit of feedback in the second verse adds the exact right amount of haunting atmosphere; the gentle pizzicato plucking in the song’s central build creates a delightful tension between the triumphant tone of the instrumentation and the morbid content of the lyrics; and after McAlpine sings “doomsday is close at hand / I’ll book the marching band / to play as you speak” the drums start to play a marching band-style snare roll. This is good stuff.
In an unexpected twist, after the song crescendos to a natural breaking point, McAlpine elects not to blast through the roof, even though she could have gone full “Happier Than Ever,” and instead cuts everything out of the track save for a single sky-bound vocal line that presages the song’s weakest point (its moderately-cringey bridge). As impressive as that single line is, I won’t pretend that I love the choice, because I am all here for McAlpine turning everything up to 11 and destroying worlds.But, hey, some things you really can’t control.
I give “doomsday” four out of five stars.
I am compelled to point out that the success of highly specific poetry is sometimes baffling. One of the most famous poems of all time is just a dozen lines of a guy telling you he ate your plums and that they were delicious. Too bad for you, I guess! Look, I understand metaphor—the plums can be more than plums, man!—but come on. Eating all of someone else’s food is a real dick move, but then writing a world-famous poem about the experience? What the hell is your deal, William Carlos Williams?
In discussing Chloe Moriondo’s excellent Blood Bunny, I used a footnote to acknowledge the role that her co-writers played in that album’s success. To recap: It’s okay to have co-writers! That said, given some stereotypes about young pop stars, it’s worth noting that McAlpine is the sole credited writer on all of five seconds flat, save those songs that feature a guest performer.
As she does in “firearm.”
Amazing track from one of the best albums of the year!