My favourite lyrics from the past year, arranged into a narrative.
Instead of making a list of my favourite records from twenty-ten, I decided to write down my ten favourite lyrics of the year. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you which albums I liked, as I’ve been writing about them since starting this blog. Besides, I’m not sure I believe in the concept of always liking one record more than another. Catch me on a Sunday morning cooking a fry-up with friends and Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’ would be favourite, while late at night on my own, the series of James Blake EP’s would be right up there. This all ties in rather neatly into the post-modern idea of fractured narratives, or configurations of the self, which I have been known to chatter on about.
As I was collating these lyrics, I noticed a trend emerging. They all without fail could be interpreted as a comment on some aspect of being in relationship with another person. This made me wonder whether me being drawn to these lyrics comes from the same internal space as the reason I am drawn to a career in therapy, where relationships are often both the problems that people bring to the room, and the solutions to those problems. Who knows. After having this realisation, I started putting the lyrics in some semblance of an order, to form a semi-structured narrative around the cycle of relationship patterns that most of us have entered into at some point in time.
1 ) The search for love
“I was just some towhead teen / Feeling ‘round for fingers to get in-between”
- Down By The Water / The Decemberists
Here we have the beginning: the search for intimacy, the common desire that brings people together. I love the image that Colin Meloy creates of wanting to fill the negative space between our fingers with the positive space of another human being’s fingers.
2 ) The first meeting
“The theme of this party’s the Industrial Age / And you came in dressed like a train wreck”
- The Weekenders / The Hold Steady
This is just a classic Craig Finn line. Too clever for it’s own good? Only if your life is devoid of wit and joy. The arrival of someone new into your life is like some terrifying mess of potential destruction. Maybe that can be a good thing.
3 ) The giddiness of new love
“So when I’m with you I have fun / Yeah when I’m with you I have fun”
- When I’m With You / Best Coast
The simplest line I’ve picked, but also one of the most universal. It perfectly captures the feeling of pure happiness that comes with spending time with someone that accepts you for who you are.
4 ) The growing to know each other
“But you will learn to mind me / And you will learn to survive me”
- Learning / Perfume Genius
The child-like piano underpinning this song makes these lyrics sound like a very sinister message from a parent to their infant. The parent seems to be conveying that the child must obey them and must outlive them. There even sounds like there is an unspoken threat beneath these words. If this message is communicated persistently to a child, it is something that they will be likely to replay throughout all their future relationships. I think this really speaks both to the acclimatisation period and the often transient nature of our romantic relationships.
5 ) The dependency
“And I don’t know how I’ma manage / If one day you just up and leave”
- Runaway / Kanye West
The best song from probably the best album of the year (subjectivity be damned). The vulnerability in Kanye’s voice as he finally cuts through his boasting bullshit and admits his fears of rejection. It is here that the most ridiculous man on the planet bears his humanity and it turns out he has the same insecurities as everyone else.
6 ) The dissatisfaction
“Cause it’s cold outside, when you coming home / Cause it’s hot inside, isn’t that enough”
- Not In Love / Crystal Castles
The vocals are much clearer on the Robert Smith version of this song, whose yearning voice is perfectly paired with the stabbing synth-line. The pleading to a restless partner who is looking for something more from life is answered by a repeated chorus of, ‘I’m not in love’. Ice-cold.
7 ) The numbing of feeling
“So move your feet from hot pavement / And into the grass”
- The Suburbs / Arcade Fire
One of the big themes on Arcade Fire’s record was that of aging and moving on. The references to “moving past the feeling” came again and again, most evocatively in this line from the title track. The sense of the change in temperature on one’s bare feet from a hot slab of pavement to a patch of cool, wet grass makes me think about how the move from the bustling city centre out to the tranquil suburbs relates to the passage of a relationship. This is calming, but numbing. There is less to be afraid of, but also less excitement and spontaneity.
8 ) The split
“The tap of hangers swaying in the closet, unburdened hooks and empty drawers / And everywhere I tried to love you is yours again and only yours”
- Does Not Suffice / Joanna Newsom
The physical emptiness of a home after the break-up of a couple that have been living together is described with meticulous detail in the closing song on Joanna Newsom’s epic triple album. This imagery mirrors the barren mental landscape of someone who has recently experienced a separation from their loved one, as they shift from having a shared experience of life to an individual experience.
9 ) The nostalgia
“Gimme that night you were already in bed / Said fuck it got up to drink with me instead”
- Younger Us / Japandroids
Focusing too much on the past is a dangerous thing to do. As Jens Lekman puts it, the “kind of love that reconstructs and remodels the past” has the power to edit our romantic histories into some idealised, romanticised version of our lives that was free of conflict. In this song, the Japandroids revel in their backwards-looking, determined to revisit the past. Did somebody say ‘Gatsby’?
10 ) The cycle mutates
“Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but it’s never the same”
- Drunk Girls / LCD Soundsystem
James Murphy is pithy as hell. Every one of his lyrics has a concise, throw-away wisdom to it that makes choosing a favourite a difficult task. This line sticks with me because of its ambiguity. It’s unclear whether he is suggesting that first love is stronger and more intense that any love that follows, or whether that every time we love someone we love them in a different, unique way. Either way, I like how it conveys the sense of warped continuity that runs through our relationship history; even after the worst break-up the feeling of love always comes back in a new and surprising way. Also: Apollo 13 was my favourite movie as an eight-year-old kid.
So those are some of my favourite lyrics that I heard in twenty-ten and the narrative structure that my mind imposed on them. Happy holidays, lovely readers!