A song about the inadequacy of the language of love, which is a theme close to the heart of an ex-English major like me who spent years talking about the inadequacy of language in general. (Odd thing, that literary critics are so attracted to this theme that essentially puts them out of business.) It’s a cover of a 1988 hit by a band called When In Rome. The original is synthesizer-driven and bouncy, but here it’s slowed to a dirge-like country song. A submerged vocal that sounds a lot like Waylon Jennings (Sturgill claims he never listened to Waylon) mumbles lover’s platitudes: if you need a friend, when you’re in danger, I’ll be there. He sounds fumbling, embarrassed, like he’s not sure he believes what he’s saying. In the chorus, he acknowledges this:

    I’m sorry but I’m just thinking of the right words to say
    I know they don’t sound the way I planned them to be
    But if you wait around a while I’ll make you fall for me
   I promise you, I promise you I will

Other have certainly trod this ground. Elvis Costello, for instance, has made a career of it, “Pidgin English” the best expression but even in an offhand couplet like “He says he’ll love you forever/But you know the night is just hours” with its clever play on ours/hours. Or there’s the drunken, abusive guy in Randy Newman’s “Marie” comparing the lover to whom he’s desperately trying to apologize to a “flower, a river, a rainbow,” those tired cliches the best he’s capable of. 

My favorite part of this song is the end. The singer has maintained his mumbling delivery throughout, but for the last run through the chorus he rears up, raises his voice over the swirling guitars, shouts the lines, and what has been an apology for not knowing the right words becomes a statement, a declaration, a compromised but unmistakable victory: I want to know the right words, I wish I knew the right words, and that’s enough, that should count for something, the wanting, the wishing, the desire.

Shivers every time! Though I’d prefer if the chorus said “stay with me” instead of “fall for me,” which would add history and crisis to the song. “Fall for me,” it sounds so adolescent. But I guess that just supports the theme.

metamodern

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