The smiling fuck-you of the year: an apology that’s not really an apology, a classic rock ‘n’ roll kiss-off masquerading in the elegant diction of the Great American Songbook writers. Addressing a current or former lover, the singer speaks of how sorry she was to have missed a party to which he invited her. “You should try holding/all the guilt that I carry,” she says, a razor gently applied (the best way). “You say that you want me,” she sings, “for all that I can be,” and we immediately recognize the situation, another guy telling a woman how much better she could be if she just followed his advice, but in this instance the woman knows exactly what’s going on and thinks she’s doing fine on her own, thanks. Fine enough to turn down both his party and self-improvement program invitations.
And what did she do instead of coming to his wonderful party? She listened to Billy Joel; she watched “Flashdance;” she read Walt Whitman. (Or, she “tried to get through Walt Whitman,” which I sympathize with, because I found it a struggle myself.) How could this guy not know he’s being made fun of? But she sings these alternate activities so sweetly, with swaying horns gently underlining these words, that he probably doesn’t. “Maybe the next party, then,” you can hear him saying. “And wear the red dress, love, it’s far more flattering than what you have on now.”
Could I be wrong about this interpretation? Sure. There are also lines about “stay(ing) in to face the trouble we are in” and “holding on to memories golden” that hint the singer might be more conflicted about the choice to stay home than she’s letting on, that she had hopes for this relationship and is pained to see them slip away.
I still think she’s mostly pissed. The singer/songwriter’s name is Traceyanne Campbell; the band is from Scotland, and have been around for a while, through at least 5-6 albums. I’ve heard/read a couple of interviews with Traceyanne, and she frankly comes across as a handful of spinach, as Bernard Malamud once said of Philip Roth’s first wife. (In an interview; I didn’t know Bernard personally.) Plus there’s the fact that you have to go through at least 20 YouTube videos before you see her smile. One shouldn’t confuse the artist with the tale, blah-blah-blah, but if you actually listen to those 20 videos while waiting for the smile it’s hard not to notice that a lof of them are about the singer realizing what a handful of spinach she can be. (Others are about protecting her heart from guys who are bigger handfuls of spinach than she is.)
Which is to say, I can’t imagine this person writing a doormat song–and so I’m inclined to look below the surface for something that arguably isn’t there. But the song is so much better if it is! Though perhaps there is a touch of regret in there too. Some people like doormat songs, but I prefer my heartbreak coming from someone with a healthy sense of self-esteem. It’s just more heartbreaking that way.