The New Pornographers’ fourth album is titled Challengers and features a cover of a man whose boxer’s stance proves ineffectual as he’s pierced through with lines and arrows, all centering on his chest tattoo of Moby Dick upending a long boat sending Ahab’s men into the drink. The theme of conflict is present before you even slit the plastic and play the disc, no more so assertively than with “My Rights Versus Yours,” a strange, poetic reflection on relationships masked by the blunt zero-sum title. It’s a chill, autumnal song. The imagery of warring factions is reinforced by the final lines of the first refrain; “You left your sorrow dangling / It hangs in the air like a school cheer,” conveying a sense of a football skirmish watched against the backdrop of an icy blue sky of a fall afternoon.
Largely, the lyrics are deliberately unclear; they’re little descriptive vignettes that refuse an easy narrative. When it culminates in the chorus, “Courts knew this and nothing more / Now it’s my rights versus yours,” it’s understood whoever has to arbitrate this failed relationship knows exactly as much as we do.
When a relationship dissolves, it leaves behind such a tangle of experiences, altercations, and unspoken expectations, unsnarling that cluster in order to conclude, who—if anyone—is right, can be impossible. It can be talked over, reflected on, and deconstructed endlessly, but often to dubious success. Or as the song itself explains: “The medicine, it still won’t work / But there’s dangerous levels of it here.”