Thursday, June 10, 2010

Song of the Week: The Lemonheads "Into Your Arms"

Last week's song was a "pop-strumental": a pop tune with no words. This week's song has only a few lyrics that repeat several times. The words stay the same, but somehow the meaning changes.

Song of the Week: The Lemonheads, "Into Your Arms"

This is a simple, immediately likable song, but it's also a song that says a lot in a small space. The entire lyric:

I know a place where I can go when I'm alone
Into your arms, I can go
I know a place that's safe and warm from the crowd
Into your arms, I can go
And if I should fall, I know I won't be alone anymore

That's it, sung over and over again. Rarely did the early-Beatles even dare to repeat so few words so many times. The achievement, of course, is that the listener barely notices. The song's so active, and so catchy, and tightly-edited, that it seems to end one foot-tapping moment after it's begun.

The key is variation; since the words don't change, the music must. The arrangement builds and slackens. More instruments join in, then drop out. The melody varies slightly--but tellingly--at each pass. The result is a song that's saying one thing, over and over, but says so much more.

For example, I used to hear this song as an Ode to a Plan B. The singer struggles with loneliness, and there's a girl he can always call when he needs a warm body. I heard the "fall" as more literal--if he's down, he knows the place where he can be picked back up. To me, it wasn't a love song, but a song about a backup plan, a way to bide the time until real love comes along.

A few months ago, one of my closest friends mentioned "Into Your Arms."  He said that he and his fiance love the song, so I immediately revisited it.  Suddenly, it sounded different. I heard it as a simple statement of unconditional love. The "fall" is figurative--he anticipates falling in love and meeting his girl there. Lonely days are over; he's found the one.

The words were the same, but their meaning changed.  Or maybe I did.

Great songs find listeners at the right time and the right place and speak to them at that moment. My favorite songs, though, are the ones that evolve as I do, that are flexible and generous enough to offer a hand no matter what I feel that day. They meet me wherever I am.  The lyrics of "Into Your Arms" stay the same, but (through some clever musical devices) sound different in each verse. Similarly, the song's stayed the same, but over the years (and with some insight from a friend) its meaning has changed.

Three years ago, I loved this song about a backup-plan, a semi-relationship--a song about loneliness, and biding time, manipulation, supplication, boredom, and bad habits. Now, I love this song as a love song--simple, generous, enduring, selfless. That's the type of love my friend has found, the type that I didn't relate to three years ago, and the type I'm ready to hear now.

My friend's getting married this week, and I can't wait to be there.  Maybe they'll play some Lemonheads at the reception.

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