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The Sister Song

One of the hundreds of tunes that Rivers Cuomo wrote in 2000, “The Sister Song” is one of the few from the era to have been placed on the semi-official live document, Summer Songs 2000, a document of the touring period named in the album’s title. It finds itself an interesting intersect of the many musical identities Cuomo was then trying to negotiate: the confessional honesty and personal lyrics of the now increasingly-maligned Pinkerton, the structural formulaism of the upcoming Green Album, and the stoned angst and paranoia of that album’s quick follow-up, Maladroit. It should be no surprise, then, that the result is a bit of a mixed bag.

The dark tone and feedbacked self-hatred from the intro certainly recall a lite version of the band’s 1996 classic, as Cuomo cryptically intones, “Fleas, and games, and hundred dollar bills / Lies, and pain, and nauseating pills.” But it’s a bit disappointing when the winning melody and lyrical promise of the chorus begins, “Why am I so hung up on your sister,” only to degrade rather unbelievably into the next line: “Why am I so hung up on your mom?” By the next couplet — “I thought that I would never even miss her / I thought that I would never use the bong” — whatever empathy and intrigue the song had established collapses outright. “I wonder how you touch yourself, and curse myself / For being across the sea” is chilling because it is so vividly desperate, pathetic, and almost frighteningly relatable; what’s going on here is chilling only insofar that it’s embarrassing and kind of repugnant. Whatever morning-after regrets and shame Cuomo had from the Pinkerton experience would be better placed on a song like this one, or perhaps its not-too-distant cousin, “Slob.”

By the time we hit the second verse, it’s like seeing the half-baked coherency of Maladroit bubbling to shape in a crystal ball (or some bong water). “Thieves, and pain, and jagged-color tears / Still remain and cover up the years” has to be one of the basest thoughts to ever come out of this brilliant mind. The bridge is also a total tossaway, though the concluding “never lose my mind” nicely ties in with the insanity themes of other songs from the era, such as “My Brain” and “Mad Kow.” Then those barbed duelling solos enter, and it really makes you wish that the band had given this song enough sober thought to reap the untapped potential here — even if Green-mode Rivers insists on cutting the segment short before it can go where it wants to, it has the makings of a damn fine moment. Likewise, Pat Wilson’s drum work from there to the conclusion deserves recognition, as does Brian Bell for his impassioned backups.

There are many unofficial bootlegs of this song in circualtion as well, some of which capture the song’s syntactical promise even better than the “official” cut. It’s also worth noting that Cuomo’s decision to edit out the first instance of the bridge from the final mix spares us from one of his most annoying post-Pinkerton habits (using the bridge at least twice in damn neary *every* song), but also excludes a powerful guitar rockout that surged the band and its crowd into the second verse. Worth tracking down if you like the SS2K version enough to care.

If the Recording History tells no lies, it appears that this song never made it to a real studio session. It did, however, briefly have the alternate title of “Your Sister.”