It’s funny how, for each of us, a song’s meaning can change so much over the course of time. Looking back to 2007, I remember ‘5 Years Time’ being a song that was gloriously happy, with incredibly sweet moments with whistling and ukeleles and lyrics like “I’m always pretty happy when I’m just kicking back with you”.
Perhaps as a reaction to that song alone, critics often accused Noah and the Whale‘s 2008 debut, ‘Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down’ of being overly twee and were thus surprised by the seemingly dark turn offered in the follow-ups of ‘The First Days of Spring’ and ‘Last Night On Earth’. To me, however, with the exception of the chirpy singles, their debut seemed – lyrically, at least – a beautifully melancholy album about love and death (more obvious examples can be found in the titular track, “we consider the world, just for a moment, and it’s gone before we even know. But I’ll follow it round, ’til peaceful, the world lays me down” and the final song, ‘Hold My Hand As I’m Lowered’, “oh, your cold hands are clutching at cloth; I leave nothing on Earth that won’t rot”).
Indeed, given that the band are named after Noah Baumbach’s wonderfully bleak ‘The Squid and the Whale’, the dark angle to their lyricism should perhaps not be a surprise. As I say, their next two albums – notably their sophomore effort, ‘The First Days of Spring’, were much more obviously depressing, and the second one was as such because it was written post-break-up between lead singer Charlie Fink and folk starlet Laura Marling.
But today I listened to ‘5 Years Time’, in the mood for a bright and cheerful summery tune and, retrospectively, it’s actually very depressing too. “In five years time, I might not know you, in five years time, we might not speak, in five years time, we might not get along”. In 2012, this is the five years time to that single’s 2007 and, well, we know the particular couple in the song aren’t still together and they’re not walking around zoos and all the rest of it (or, not together, at least). It’s made me all surprisingly introspective about what might be happening in five years time, and listening to it again the charming sunshine melodies and delightful refrains and pretty bits of lyricism are making me a bit sad.
I guess the (tenuous) point of this longwinded essay is I think it’s fascinating how context can change the meaning of a song and how, at any given time, the same song can have about thousand different meanings to a thousand different listeners.