Sounding like something the Breeders might have recorded for Beatles ’65, “You Wouldn’t Have To Ask” hangs its musical hopes and dreams upon that left-field chord we hear first at 0:07 and then keep waiting to hear a few more times. But this song is so sturdy and succinct we actually hear it only once more, with emphasis (1:06), in the instrumental run-through of the verse. It’s a set-up chord, a place you go to but can’t stay at, so what we’re really waiting for is not the chord again as much as the payoff. Said payoff is delivered via that very Beatley chord progression from 1:39 to 1:41, which in turns sets up the equally Beatley set of concluding chords from 1:46 to 1:50. The song ends there on a dime because, well, it’s done its job.
And that would be enough already, but “You Wouldn’t Have To Ask” is much enhanced by its off-handedly brilliant lyrical conceit, which provides a truly great pop songwriting moment: the titular phrase is a powerful way of communicating both the connection and the disconnection between two people. If I had what you’re looking for I’d give it to you, the singer says: “You wouldn’t have to ask.” But a darker side is implied, since theoretically the other person knows this too; “You wouldn’t have to ask” may, therefore, be either pledge (“I’d give it without your asking”) or accusation (“You know I don’t have it, so why are you asking?”) and most likely a complex blend of both. Even in this short song, the complexities of the phrase are developed and deepened; I find the last iteration especially haunting, with the singer at the end now saying, “If I could help you/You wouldn’t have to ask.”
Bad Books is a project fronted by Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Kevin Devine and Andy Hull, of Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra; other members of Manchester Orchestra comprise the rest of the band. “You Wouldn’t Have To Ask” is a song from the group’s self-titled debut, which was released digitally last month and physically this month on Favorite Gentlemen Recordings, a label founded in Atlanta by members of Manchester Orchestra. MP3 via Favorite Gentlemen. Thanks to the blog Eardrums for the lead.