I wrote the previous essay while laboring under the misapprehension that “Say Goodbye” was on Cloud Factory.
Right now I only have the Cloud Factory songs on an eponymous CD that Link Records put out in 1989, which compiles O Positive’s first two EPs. Instead of putting them in the correct running order, however, Link Records reshuffled the track listing so that the songs were out of the original EP sequencing. This may have served some purpose on the album’s original release, but it poses unnecessary challenges to those writing about the band so long after the fact. (Hi there!)
The reshuffling also illustrates some of the incorrect assumptions I’d made about the development of the band’s style. The three songs that are so quintessentially of the first album – “With You”, “Up Up Up”, and “Weight of Days” – have a very internal, contemplative quality. This comes through in the lyrics, which have a great universal specificity (think of the “it’s our five-week anniversary” line in “With You”), and the insular, echoing guitar sound and cocoon-like production italicize that mood. By contrast, “Say Goodbye” has a more universal approach. Like many great pop songs, it could be about a romantic breakup. It could also be about leaving a rock band you helped form, or matriculating from a tough middle school and hoping for a clean slate at the high school next year. The ping-ponging riff that opens the song, the way the guitar parts layer over one another, and the hummable, major-key melody all give the song a more polished approach, one that I’d associated with the less downcast follow-up EP.
In listening to the first two EPs, the contrast between the guitar lines and vocals and lyrics gave the songs a challenging, engaging quality. Herlihy and Pettiti wrote from two lyrical perspectives: being mired in depression and indecision, or recognizing that something isn’t right and feeling determined to change it. Because the moodier tracks cast such a shadow, it’s tempting to see Only Breathing in terms of the former. Conversely, “Pictures” sounds like a later O Positive song because of the proactive point of view (“It’s time to start/And what is that sound…?”). That determination is one that would become more prominent on the band’s later albums, particularly on Home Sweet Head. Throughout both EPs, Pettiti’s guitar work recalls quotidian non-musical sounds, like bird calls or Morse Code, that it counters the very human point of view espoused in the lyrics. The reverb-drenched production and the tight arrangements envelop the vocals, which emphasizes the hopeless mood of the more melancholy tunes and minimizes the need for escape that permeates the less downcast numbers. Particularly on the earlier numbers, the push/pull between the need to escape and the overwhelming sonics gave the songs this overwhelming, cathartic quality that made them a staple in Boston-area record collections.