I’m British, so of course, I say sorry. Buzzfeed came up with 65 ways Brits say sorry, there are endless jokes about it, but the reality is, I and many others say sorry far more than we need to.
/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
I’ve apologised for things where I was absolutely in the wrong, and I’ve more than likely apologised even when I was right, too. I’ve also not apologised when I should have done and apologised for just about everything at the depths of my depression. I’ve definitely had to apologise to my wife for some of my puns, too.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below). And on another note, today marks the fifteenth anniversary of amodelofcontrol.com. No plans for a party, mind.
Anyway, these are songs about apologising (or not), in one way or another. If you don’t like the songs or disagree with my selections?
/Candy Apple Grey
The reason that this week’s post exists at all is thanks to hearing this song on Lamacq’s show on 6Music last week. The lead single from this most influential of bands’ major-label debut – and indeed probably the point where alternative rock began the move to the mainstream – it is still a pretty abrasive song, but what saves it from the depths is the gorgeous, plaintive melody of the chorus (proof of the beauty of this song comes from a 2014 solo performance of it, complete with a joyous crowd singalong, that is every bit as brilliant as the original). Grant Hart’s lyrics here actually refuses to offer an outright apology, as whatever situation has caused it, he is absolutely sure he is not in the wrong, but as the chorus notes, the other person’s behaviour is making him feel like he should be sorry. It’s tempting to wonder if this was a jab at his bandmate Bob Mould (it was always an unstable relationship, the band’s brilliance at least in part driven by the competition between them), and they appeared to have at least partly reconciled in the last years before Hart’s untimely death in September 2017.
/Jar of Flies EP
While Jerry Cantrell wrote most of the earlier songs and lyrics by the band (including this one), it is hard not to see almost all of their older songs through the prism of Layne Staley’s tough life and wracked delivery. This song, in particular, stuck with me, from the first EP to go to the top of the Billboard Charts. Like its sibling EP Sap (released two years earlier), it is broadly acoustic and shows a totally different side to this normally harder-edged band. This song doesn’t actually offer an outright apology, but then I suspect that’s the point, as the narrator admits a whole host of failures that anyone who has been lost in the fug of depression will recognise immediately (“It’s ok / had a bad day” is just one particular line that might resonate), but never offers any form of apology for what they’ve done, just admitting that there are no excuses for it. That Staley never overcame his addictions and died young made many of their songs all the bleaker in retrospect.
/Sorry dad, I was late for the riots
/The Plot Against Common Sense
Andrew Falkous has long been one of the most amusing – and brutally cynical – songwriters around, and as far as I’m concerned hit his peak with his post-McLusky project Future of the Left on this album, that absolutely tore into much of the politics and events of the time. The most striking song on the album, though, was this one, that dealt with the 2011 summer riots (that somehow we were out of town when they happened, on a pre-planned trip to Berlin for my birthday – it was rather shocking to see the headlines on a local paper of “London Brennt” one morning, that was for sure). But it wasn’t aiming at those that had a genuine grievance, of which there were undoubtedly many, it was those that joined in that had rather more privilege. This song, then, isn’t a direct apology – the word sorry in this context is one that is a “Non-apology apology”, and highlights a generational divide and both that, as the lyrics make clear, privileged people can act with impunity. That said, I don’t recall many apologies from any side in those riots, and frankly, not a lot has changed since in addressing the societal problems that at least partly caused them.
/Father Forgive Me
A band that burned brightly for a short while, then vanished amid the post-millennial record company carnage, their second album in hindsight isn’t perhaps as bad as some might have suggested (although their debut The Greatest Gift is still vastly better). This track – considerably heavier and faster-paced than many of their other songs – is something of a plea for understanding and, yes, forgiveness, as Ishmael Lewis tries to make others understand his way of doing things. Perhaps not an outright apology, more of a “this is how I am”, something of a thread that wove its way through so much of their material.
Expect more about this rather forgotten band in a forthcoming new post in my occasional Rearview Mirror series, and remarkably, look out for a “new” EP of songs that never made release in 2002 on 02-April.
/Let Love In
Hardly the only song in this list written from the point of view of a substance abuser, but intriguingly it is one of the only Nick Cave songs I can think of where his parade of characters from the underbelly of life actually offer any form of apology or contrition for what they’ve done. That said, I don’t think that there is really much sincerity here, frankly, as the repeated apologies come across like a list of “to-do” items as he retreats back to the titular bar to get wasted once again, and no doubt to repeat all of those apologies the next day. Musically, by the way, this is one of the more raucous, upbeat songs in the Bad Seeds back catalogue, both nodding back to the Birthday Party days and also providing a link to what came after this – the looser, more unhinged parts of Murder Ballads, and there were certainly no apologies offered there!
The extraordinary final track on Nirvana’s third and last studio album In Utero (and the penultimate track on the exceptional Unplugged In New York album released after Cobain’s death), I remember some rather ghoulish theories being suggested after his death around this song, that it was a “suicide note” or such. I don’t subscribe to that theory at all, but I absolutely agree that it was the work of a profoundly unhappy, depressed man. The lyrics drip with self-loathing – and occasional shafts of light in the form of sarcastic humour – as Cobain murmurs that “everything’s my fault” and “what else could I be”, the titular “all apologies” being a half-hearted one in the end. What then makes this song all the more glorious, though, is the literal sunburst of a chorus, as he opens up his voice, and the band step up a notch to follow him into the sunshine for a brief few moments. The way the song then fades out, as if Cobain simply runs out of energy repeating the final coda, marks an almost perfect full-stop on a career that was over far too soon.
Many may only remember Outkast from their monstrous hit Hey Ya, but there are a great many of their songs that are worth more attention than that admittedly great throwaway of a song. Pretty much all of Stankonia, for a start – which produced a number of exceptional singles (including the incredible B.O.B.) and was very much their mainstream breakthrough. This song, though, is one of the most sincere apologies in this list. At least partly based on Andre 3000’s relationship with Erykah Badu and her mother (who is the titular character), it comes across as a heartfelt apology for the way that things fell apart. Talking of falling apart, the video is a wonderfully odd concoction, too…
/Stanford Prison Experiment
Make that two, mostly-forgotten and obscure bands of the nineties feature this week. Once touted as contemporaries of Rage Against The Machine, among others, they were perhaps far too seethingly political and left-of-centre for mainstream acceptance in the US (their second album The Gato Hunch had a thirty-minute speech by Noam Chomsky called Class War as the bonus track). They were also a bone-dry hardcore band, too, especially on the self-titled debut, but did slow down at points, such as on Written Apology, which seems to me to be a veiled jab at the rich stamping on the poor (in a cultural and economic sense), with the “poor” protagonist offering cynical apologies for existing in the first place – which is clearly ignored.
Curiously one of a pair of R.E.M. songs to have an achingly intense chorus around the word “sorry” (see also the much earlier R.E.M. classic So. Central Rain), and I can’t help but feel that the protagonist in that older song is rather more contrite than the one depicted here. This song, as far as I’m aware, details someone in a 12-step AA program, who as part of steps eight and nine, needs to make amends and apologise. But amid the droning electronics that provides much of the backing, Stipe’s vocals drip with duplicity, as the narcissistic protagonist offers apologies repeatedly that feel…hollow. This is someone ticking boxes to make it to the end, without actually meaning what they say, and a result, this ends up as one of the darkest, most cynical songs that R.E.M. wrote – and by far one of their best “late period” songs.
/Can We Start Again?
Finally, a band that are no strangers to heartbreak, to things not working out right. Tindersticks remains a singular, extraordinary band, who across a few decades has carved out a niche as an alternative, “indie” band who are jazz- and blues-influenced, and in many ways so, so European. But on their fourth album, they dug into soulful sounds for what is actually one of my favourite albums of theirs (and I’m well aware that not everyone loved this period of the band’s work). The glorious opening track to this album, though, is indisputably one of their greatest songs, as Stuart Staples implores a (presumably ex-) lover that he can be better, things can work out – even if they won’t or can’t change, he will. There is a mumbled sorry amid the song, but tossed away as if he knows that this apology can never be enough. But sometimes, you have to adjust, adapt and try again.
Being sorry won’t really change anything, then. It’s how you change as a result of your mistakes that is far more important.