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Harvey Danger: How And Why To Say Goodbye

Harvey Danger experienced a brief moment of mainstream ubiquity in 1998, when "Flagpole Sitta" made it arguably the least likely band ever to land a song on a Jock Jams compilation. The group wound up in a sort of commercial purgatory for years thereafter — too mainstream for the underground, too brainy for the mainstream — and disappeared around the time 2000's ambitious and frequently beautiful King James Version bombed. But some one-hit wonders deserve far more than one hit, and Harvey Danger's reputation is due for a Nada Surf-style reboot: The 2005 album Little By Little... is tremendous through and through, and its two full-length predecessors have aged exceptionally well.

Sadly, and pretty much inevitably, the band appears to have broken up for good, but it's left fans with a final salvo in the appropriately titled "The Show Must Not Go On," available on Harvey Danger's website as a free download. In a little less than six relentlessly catchy minutes, singer Sean Nelson and company craft a perfect breakup anthem, not to mention an appropriate soundtrack to the end of a hard year and a frequently brilliant career — a remarkable feat for a band that deserved more credit.

"You can bash your head against the wall forever — the wall will never change," Nelson sings pointedly in "The Show Must Not Go On," adding, "but if you start to like the bloody bruises, the wall cannot be blamed." There's a lot of what sounds like hard-earned wisdom in those lines, not to mention more maturity than most breakup songs can muster. It's easy to locate the nobility in persistence, sure, but there's also wisdom in knowing when to pack it in and pursue happiness in other ways. Nelson clearly knows that, bypassing self-pity for a celebratory victory lap. Anyone who's had a lousy year would do well to jam "The Show Must Not Go On" as the clock strikes midnight. It'll make a powerful soundtrack to a much-needed drowning of the past.

This story originally ran on Dec. 30, 2010.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)