Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Did everyone bring their dream journals today?
Before we jump into Passenger and his–based on the cover art up there, I’m assuming–yearning meditation on what it means to “let her go”, let’s talk about indie folk for a moment, because that might actually be interesting. The genre’s a recent development, made up of groups that combine the storytelling lyrics and acoustic instrumentation of folk with indie rock showmanship and wider instrumentation (fiddles, piano, etc). The “sensitive, quiet, beardy dude singer-songwriter” subgenre solidified around the emergence of Bon Iver, who’s “Skinny Love” is basically it’s answer “Stairway to Heaven”. Since Bon Iver and similar acts like Iron and Wine’s breakthough, acts focusing on sad bastard poetry lyrics, acoustic guitars, and deliberately uncharismatic “aw shucks” earnest performers have flooded the market. This is the niche genre responsible for “Fall/Winter” playlist filler tracks the world over.
And it’s never gotten much of a reaction out of me. I like indie folk fine enough, but “beardy dude” is just too boring. The music’s rarely engaging, and any emotional punch to the lyrics tends to get undercut by mumbling deliveries or cloying performances. On top of that, few of the acts try to sound all that different, meaning that for me, the songs blend into one mopey package before too long.
Enter “Let Her Go”, by (of course) bearded British singer-songwriter Passenger (Michael David Rosenberg), a slice of 2012 indie folk that’s shrugged and whimpered its way into the current top 20. I tried looking for an interesting story behind “Let Her Go”, like an innovative video or a breakout live performance, but the song apparently picked up steam through sheer force of will. I don’t get it.
I’ve covered more than a few bad/offensive/horrible songs on Radio Rants before, but never one this pathetic before. “Let Her Go” is so pathe–actually, wait a second.
Let’s change it up here.
Let’s be constructive for a bit: instead of me prattling on about how boringly bad “Let Her Go” is, why don’t I look at a few songs that do the things that “Let Her Go” tries to do, but better? That way, we’re still here talking about music, but hopefully happy about it, eh? And, just to avoid claims of being “too obscure”, I’ll only pull from music videos with over a million hits on YouTube. Ready?
Cute and Fuzzy Folk Song: “Let Her Go”, with its syrupy strings and overly twee xylophone melody, is presenting itself as a sweet and charming little ballad to cozy up to. Instead, try…
“She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert
You’re still getting all your acoustic guiar, piano, group vocals and string tinged cute-folk, but the delivery is way less predictable than “Let Her Go”, where you could predict where the fingerpicking becomes strums and where the soaring violins appear on the first time. “She Keeps Me Warm” gives Mary Lambert’s hook on “Same Love” proper context, and while that context might be sweeter than a puppy chasing a butterfly through a field of daisies, it works. This is personable, it’s melodic, and the final chorus is to die for. Might be a few seconds shorter than “Let Her Go”, too.
Brit with a Weird Singing Voice: Of all “Let Her Go”‘s characteristics, Passenger’s voice is the most colorful and most damning. That mewling voice you use to sing to yourself while praying no one else can hear you? That’s Passenger’s singing voice, and his wispy, on the perenial verge of tears tenor is impossible to take seriously.
Anything by The Smiths. Literally any song.
Smiths lead singer Morrissey’s been a punchline, even before making outrages claims, partly because of his signature bleating voice. I bent my own rules a bit and linked to a live song just to verify that yes, that is what he sounds like. Try imitating it; it’s impossible to not sound like Kermit the Frog. And it’s still better than Passenger.
Lyrical Theme of “Hey, You Fucked Up Your Love Life”: The main lyric to “Let Her Go” is “You didn’t know that you love her until you let her go…and you let her go, (man)“. Tossed in the verses are passive-aggressive, never expounded on potshots at that vague “you”–lines like, “Maybe one day you’ll understand why/Everything you touch surely dies”. These lyrics hint at some darkness beyond the song’s bright and shiny exterior, but never get touched.
Death Cab for Cutie – Cath…
The world is full songs about screwing up your love life, but “Cath…” jumps passed passive-aggressive, and gets downright cruel. That “everything you touch surely dies” lyric from “Let Her Go” might be catty, but it ain’t shit next to “Cath, it seems that you’re living someone else’s dreams/In a hand-me-down wedding dress/All the things you could have been are oppressed”. Like, holy shit, Cath might not even be a real person, and I still feel bad hearing that. “Cath…” also gets points for having some honest to God empathy and understanding for its subject, concluding that the singer might be talking shit, but “I’d have done the same as you” in the situation.
“Let Her Go” as a Break-Up song. “Let Her Go” is a break-up song, but it’s the type that’s a lot douchier than its puppy dog-eyed exterior lets on. He didn’t realize he loved her until he broke up with her. He doesn’t try to win her back, either; he comes to the “I loved her” realization forty seconds into the song, and then basically shrugs and laments being without her forever. Dude, you skipped a few steps.
Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball
Ok, stay with me on this one. I’m going to do this without riffing on Miley Cyrus
I know it’s “Wrecking Ball” is its own instant punchline, but just imagine it through the lyrics. It’s about someone who asked too much of their romantic partner, kept pulling at them even despite the other person’s protests, and fought for the relationship until the bitter end, when it blew up in their face. That’s an actual Thing that happens, not just a reason to get a former child star to gyrate naked on a wrecking ball (dammit, that one slipped out). So yes, as a break-up song, “Wrecking Ball” is better written and more emotionally resonant than “Let Her Go”.
That should say it all about “Let Her Go”: a song so middle of the road, dorky, and unconvincing that it got lapped by “Wrecking Ball”, of all things. When Jason Mraz did this sort of thing, it reduced me to a spittle-covered rage, but Passenger’s too slight for even that. Let this one go, everyone. You won’t miss it.