If ever in search of a genuine weirdo, look no further than Montreal’s Sean Nicholas Savage. In conjunction with the release of his 11th studio album Bermuda Waterfall via Arbutus Records, Savage paired up with director Angus Borsos and dropped an eccentric little music video for his song “The Rat.”
In my brief history of listening to Savage, I’ve learned this: to hear him is to love him; to watch him is to ignite an obsession.
The black and white video opens with Sean in a corpse-like pose, weak light flickering on his bare chest and the roar of invisible surf scoring the image. Cut to a split screen of the wide-eyed man himself staring past the camera’s lens, his moniker in bold to the left of him. One would expect a washed-out and dreary ballad from a visual such as this, and yet thumping piano greets the ear instead. I’m hearing more Hall and Oates in this track than the somber dream pop I was anticipating.
A muffled voice croons that ubiquitous line of nearly every eighties pop song: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Our eyes finally settle on a direct shot of an alleyway resting between cement walls. Two partial orbs of light illuminate each structure with clinical brightness. The whole scene is as comforting as a coatless winter stroll through The Eastern Bloc. Savage, wearing only a drab pair of drawstring pants, stumbles between the concrete slabs with sloppy flamboyance; his movements teeter between gestures and dancing in the Morrissey tradition of physical vagueness. In fact my first viewing of “The Rat” immediately reminded me of Moz’s 1992 music video for “Tomorrow,” and I can’t imagine Savage has not been significantly influenced by The Smiths front man. He exudes the same boyish magnetism and ambiguous sexuality. His physique is likewise twinkish and emaciated, lending him an appearance falling somewhere between cover boy and malnourished prisoner.
The upbeat melody of the song is at conflict with not only the visual setting of the video, but also Savage’s lyrical content, able to simultaneously evoke sweet longing and bitter sarcasm. His performance in “The Rat” is at once bestial and soft, grotesque and playful. At one point he scales the two walls like a feral little creature and snarls directly at the camera like a belligerent chimp. I guess at this point I’ve narrowly escaped a pun including his last name.
“The Rat” is nothing sensational or groundbreaking in the realm of videography, but its perfect simplicity makes narrative virtually needless. The majority of it is shot in one take and comes off as entirely unrehearsed. Savage appears to be without any apprehension or self-consciousness; there is no forethought, no Ego, just Id. He is aware of the camera but in the same way someone is aware of his own reflection when they dance in front of a mirror. This kind of candid clumsiness is endearing and refreshing from an artist in his twenties; he’s not acting, he’s not trying, he’s just being.
And what a damn fine way to be.