Maladroit outtake “So Low” was far from a great song to begin with, but when the band rewrote and re-attempted the song as “Mansion of Cardboard” for what is known as the Early Album 5 sessions (essentially, an early and abortive run of recordings in 2002 for what eventually became 2005’s Make Believe), it could only go downhill.
One of the defining features of this mostly-faceless batch o’ tunes is Rivers Cuomo’s first real, focused experiments with third-person storytelling in song. The band’s first three albums primarily deal with his experiences with and desires for women — be they real or imagined — and even Maladroit, which tried to skirt the issue of subject matter entirely, still found Cuomo singing more about “I” and “my” than anything else. Here, Cuomo tries to get outside himself for a moment, and turns “So Low” — another song about Cuomo’s longings for a girl — into a weird anthem for the proudly homeless. It should be no big surprise that it doesn’t really work.
Keeping the prior song’s bland musical foundation intact, the lyrics blunder through several clumsy lines and (rather gross) images: “Thoughts arise / Fear is doubt / Bearing through / Giving smell,” “Overcoat / Old wool cap / Leather gloves / Hide the fat,” and the hatefully bad refrain, “Stand back! The old man’s snoring heavy / Down underneath the bridge he’s got his mansion of cardboard slats / And it’s enough,” to name just a few.
Cuomo’s best third-person sketch from the lot is without a doubt “The Organ Player,” which I’d say succeeds because the topic is a little closer to home for Cuomo than the vagabond life. But this one, like so many others from the wisely-scrapped ’02 sessions, is better left forgotten.