Disclaimer: All the tracks from "We Were Dead From The Start" are base on the book 1984 by George Orwell. "Memories being the first song, I explain why I wrote this album on that post. It'll help to read these posts in order of album appearance.
If you read my post on "Broken Watch," I explained that every once in a while, I'll write a song and immediately know it's among my best. I wrote "O'Brien" in about two hours, immediately called my wife and told her I wrote the best song I'll ever write. As I explain in my post on "Memories," I read 1984 every year. And when I do, I like to take notes on the themes that stick out. It changes every time. Sometime I focus on one character, sometimes another. Sometimes I'm looking at the grand story, sometimes I find some minute detail that changes everything. At the time, while I was reading, the character O'Brien stood out. Winston Smith was a member of the Party. But he wasn't in the Inner Party. Early on in the book Winston finds an unspoken kinship with an Inner Party member known only as O'Brien. He mentions that O'Brien has features too harsh to be considered handsome, and he's so large that you'd expect him to be clumsy, but strangely enough he has a grace about him. Winston feels as if O'Brien is the one person who truly understands him. As the story continues, O'Brien eventually reveals himself to be a part of an underground resistance. He convinces Winston and Julia to join this resistance. After getting Winston to vocalize his rebellion against Big Brother, causing him to be captured and tortured, O'Brien is revealed to be part of Big Brother and the party. He then proceeds to interrogate and torture Winston, and eventually brainwashing him to love Big Brother.
What I find interesting about the relationship between Winston and O'Brien is that throughout everything, Winston still respects, admires, and even loves O'Brien. There's a promise between them to "Meet again in the place where there is no darkness," which has several interpretations too long to go into here. Winston sees O'Brien as both his destruction and salvation. I'm a sucker for complicated relationships.
The song O'Brien is one of those songs that was arranged immediately upon writing it. I knew what every instrument would do. I wanted to capture the feeling of the last dance at your high school formal. You know this is the last dance with your partner. You know that after this dance you and your partner would break up, and no longer be together. But you also know that as long as the dance continues, you're still together. I wanted a song that had a bittersweet, eternal feel. It's written as almost a waltz. After the final chorus, it turns back into a drawn out ending. I don't know why the relationship between Winston and O'Brien inspired that feel, as there were no romantic feelings between them, but it did. The story in the song starts with them meeting and the immediate love and admiration Winston felt towards O'Brien. The second verse deals with O'Brien's betrayal and torture and interrogation of Winston. But you'll notice that Winston still feels that even through all of this, O'Brien understands him, and perhaps that's all Winston wants.
You'll also notice the standard SMSM themes. The guitar parts are equal parts chord driven and riff driven. There are exchanges of cello and piano lines that make up the instrumental sections. I really love O'Brien.