I just finished reading Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life by Trevor Cole, a smart and entertaining novel about a failed actor who imagines his life as a never-ending drama in which he’s the star. Having studied theatre and been part of the arts community, I’ve met my fair share of Norman Brays. Artificial souls, devoid of authenticity. Always unaware of the level of pomposity they’ve reached because the idea of caring about another person seems as unfathomable to them as eating glass.
There’s a quality to “Sky’s Grey” that sparks a connection between the new single from Dan Bejar’s Destroyer and Trevor Cole’s novel. Lyrical references to being an actor and “getting to the good parts” aside, Bejar always infuses the role of Destroyer front man with a heavy dose of drama and chutzpah. His use of repetition on “Sky’s Grey” plays like a vocal warm-up, rolled around the mouth while waiting in the wings for one’s cue to go on. The difference between the Norman Brays of this world (of which there are many) and Dan Bejar (undeniably singular) comes down to motivation, in the Stanislavski sense of the word. The best Destroyer songs (I easily include “Sky’s Grey” amongst them) move from beat to beat, playing out dramatic shifts that never feel forced or contrived. Like an iconic character from the theatre or cinema, “Sky’s Grey” ends in a very different place than where it started. An initial sputter of drum machine (sounding remarkably close to “Heart of Glass”) ebbs and flows through the mix early on. An elegiac piano motif that ushers in Bejar’s restrained yet still elastic vocal, before the song shifts towards its conclusion on a Bernard Butleresque guitar riff that hints at the Suede influence Bejar touched upon when announcing his new album, ken.
From the wild abandon of early records like We’ll Build Them a Golden Bridge to the mellowed out, detached chill of Kaputt, Destroyer has always felt like an improvised work in progress, a study in making art rather than building a persona. His is not an overpowering presence. As compelling a frontman as Bejar his, he’s often not the most interesting element in a Destroyer song; just its most essential.