“A butterfly flies through the forest rain
And turns the wind into a hurricane…”

I was playing this song at work once, and a coworker of mine walked up and said, “Is this the Doors?” I never liked that guy.

It’s the sliding string riff in the chorus that just kills me. The drop from the first to second note is a little bump, but the third and fourth notes…? Much plummeting, as a fellow Popdoser once said in describing Luke Skywalker after he discovered Darth Vader was his father. There are few songs with such a melodic fall into despair as this one boasts.

“A schoolboy yawns, sits back, and hits Return
While ’round the world, computers crash and burn…”

Neil Hannon takes his good sweet time getting to the point in this song, spending the first two verses talking about butterflies, hurricanes and hackers. What kind of song is this, anyway? Is he really getting this worked up over a punk kid who launches a virus? Of course not: he’s just saving the best for last.

“You must go, and I must set you free
‘Cause only that will bring you back to me…”

Ah, now it makes sense. The storm, the hacker, the girl leaving him: they’re all things he didn’t see coming, but in retrospect, feels that he should have. Inevitable moments that, once he embraces them, will lead to something better. It has to get better, right?

“I know that it will happen, I’m sure that it must happen
I know it’s gonna happen, because I believe in the certainty of chance…”

Crash. Huge orchestral swell in that last chorus. And then it goes all “Nights in White Satin” with an odd spoken-word bit from Hannon about how the world will be wonderful, but from whose viewpoint, and that we need to live in a state of suspended animation, like a work of art. Detached. Well, I suppose being detached is one way of keeping your heart from getting broken, though I much prefer the more human, messier way.

I don’t have a sad-sack story associated with this song, like I’ve had for the others. But this is the kind of song that almost makes me wish I could relate it to someone. That’s powerful stuff, wanting to have your heart broken when you hear a song. Unfortunately I don’t think the wife would go along with that, and I don’t really want to get my heart broken again anyway.

Rufus Wainwright recorded a similarly bombastic song a few years later called “Go or Go Ahead.” It features the exact same downward chords as “The Certainty of Chance,” even using the same key. I actually asked Neil Hannon about it once, but he hadn’t heard Wainwright’s song yet (though he told me he loved Wainwright’s music). Hannon laughed off the notion of Wainwright copying him, saying that he (Hannon, not Wainwright) probably stole the downward chord sequence from Debussy or Rachmaninov in the first place. All I know is that there is no way that Rufus Wainwright hasn’t heard this song. I’ll leave it up to you to decide just how much thieving (tribute?) is taking place here.


About the Author

David Medsker

David Medsker used to be "with it." But then they changed what "it" was. Now what he's "with" isn't "it," and what's "it" seems weird and scary to him. He is available for children's parties.

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