This week's Mailbag mentioned a new album by Harlan T. Bobo, a favorite singer/songwriter of mine and author of the heart-stopping breakup album, Too Much Love. As I typed that blog, Too Much Love played in the background, and I remembered all the reasons I love it: its enduring affection for the ex, its multi-dimensionality, the warm (nearly vintage) production, its lyrics that are literally specific yet emotionally universal...the list goes on. It's a terrific album.
But perhaps its greatest virtue--and the hallmark of its best songs--is fearlessness. This is fearless songwriting.
Song of the Week: Harlan T. Bobo, "Left Your Door Unlocked"
Sure, it's mid-tempo and melodic and listenable at every moment. Sure, the major-minor chord changes perfectly narrate the singer's doomed optimism, the ray of hope he's trying to find, the darkness he's trying to shut out. Sure, I could write five paragraphs on the musical change that occurs during the lyric, "just to see if things had changed." It's brilliant, and powerful, and supports whatever type of listen you want to give it.
But today I want to focus strictly on the lyrics, which are remarkable for their candidness, and understated poetics, and literal nature. But really, they're fearless. To wit:
You left your door unlocked
I couldn't keep from coming in
Though I could've stayed outside
It was raining and I knew you were out with him
Just to lie in our bed
Just to see if things have changed
I only stay here awhile
To make believe that you and me are here at home
I always liked this place
The kind of place that feels at home
I guess I'd hoped to find
The little things that prove you think of me
Out into the night
You're out there somewhere getting drunk
When you get back home
You'll find me sleeping
And you'll know how much I care
Our narrator trespasses into his ex's house while she's out with a new man. He then walks in the dark to the bed that she now shares with a new man. He then lies down in that bed, and pretends they're still together. Unable to stop himself, he canvasses the house looking for trinkets of himself. He finally goes to sleep in her bed, convincing himself she'll appreciate (or at least pity) the gesture.
He tells us this without blinking. He invites us to judge him. He knows what we're thinking, and doesn't care. This is his reality, and the only way he can make sense of it is to tell the story as honestly as possible. By the song's end, we're on his side; the slightly creepy narrator has become a sympathetic protagonist. We're rooting for him, though we know it's a losing battle.
It's a breathtaking song--a quiet, understated vignette that accomplishes something few songs can. It risks turning us off in order to really let us in.
A few more fearless songs I'm listening to these days:
Cory Branan, "Love Song 8"
"She was going down/I was ashing on her back
Loved that girl like she was mine
And I hit back once/open-handed, no excuses
Loved that girl like she was mine."
Jesus. A brutal song, but a great one. Few would attempt to write it; only Branan actually could.
Lyle Lovett, "LA County"
"And they kissed each other
And they turned around
And they saw me standing in the aisle
Well I did not say much
I just stood there watching
As that .45 told them goodbye"
Lovett makes the amazing decision to tell a homicidal love story overtop a great, bouncy pop song. He's challenging his listeners, but he's also rewarding them.
"I stumble in the hallway
Outside her bedroom door
I hear her call out to me
I hear the fear in her voice
She pulls the covers tighter
I press against the door
I will be with her tonight."
Written from a criminal's perspective, it's incredibly dark, not redeeming, not for everyone, but totally fearless and unrepentant. I can honestly say I've never heard another pop song like it, which doesn't happen much.
What are some more fearless songs? Hit up the comments and let me know!