Having your song used in commercials is a double-edged sword for artists. For many indie bands, I’m sure the royalties are welcome and hard to turn down, but it’s also the sort of thing that can follow an artist around for life (exhibits A, B, C, infinity: just about anyone who’s been featured in an Apple spot). A good pairing, though, can elevate something potentially mechanical and soulless to memorable, even transcendent. It helps, of course, if the song itself reaches those heights already. Such is the case with the New Pornographers’ anthem “The Bleeding Heart Show,” whose spangly hey-la hey-la chorus is best known for being prominently featured in a commercial for the for-profit educational center University of Phoenix, of all things. It’s also one of the most perfectly constructed pop songs of the past decade.
The album it comes from, Twin Cinema, was released a decade ago, and though the band has released many ear-wormy delights since then, “The Bleeding Heart Show” has become one of their signature songs. The New Pornographers are something of an indie supergroup, spearheaded by A.C. Newman trading vocals with Dan Bejar of Destroyer and the volcanically talented Neko Case, backed up by other journeymen and women. They’ve put out six records since first forming in 2003, and each one harnesses the alchemical joy of a group of good friends getting back together again. It’s like The Big Chill, except without the Boomer moping and everyone’s singing songs they wrote together instead of Motown classics.
As a band, The New Pornographers seem incapable of making something without a hook. On paper “The Bleeding Heart Show” has a classic three-part structure, but that’s liberating for the song rather than limiting. It begins quietly with the plaintive chords of a lone piano. The drums kick in with Newman’s vocals, the lyrics somewhat nonsensical but seeming to detail the hazy morning after a rager, an impression reflected in the music, which sounds like it’s fumbling toward what it wants to be. But it moves swiftly after two verses into the bridge, the drums escalating as Newman and Case build in urgency and solidarity, joined by a melodica, the harmonica’s carnival cousin. Then Newman drops out and a chorus of “oohs” takes over, carrying us as the instruments begin locking together and surging forward, exploding into the “hey-la” finale. It’s a fist-pumping, chest-swelling blast of emotion, and for the next sixty seconds it seems the band may go on forever, backing up each epic moment in your life.
The New Pornographers play Prospect Park on Saturday, July 10th, for free, if you’re in the area.