Dropping my kid off at school the other day, I decided on the drive home to treat myself to Frightened Rabbit’s “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”. Now, it’d been a while since I last listened to this song, which had comfortably been my favourite song of 2009. Indeed, looking back, even then I was trying to stop myself listening to it too much, worried that I’d wear the poor thing out.
And so, listening again after many months, the hairs on my arms stood to attention and that familiar shiver passed through me. You want to know what a truly good song is? One that still gives you the chills after you’ve heard it 63 times (thanks, iTunes). The song starts with a lovely, slightly Big Country1 guitar line, Scott Hutchison’s lovely Scottish burr at the edge of the North Sea, slowly unravelling a tale of a failed love and swimming in the sea, deciding whether to end it all or not.
As things progress, he’s joined firstly by a massed choir of voices, then swelling strings, then a horn section that would do a Philly Soul band proud. One of the great things about the song is how these fripperies don’t feel thrown on at the end, like something from a bad Verve song (or a normal Primal Scream one). They add to it immeasurably, the strings providing a perfect counter to the guitar lines, without clogging it into an indigestible mess. Saying that, even played alone on an acoustic, it still sounds great:
I won’t even go into how finely honed the lyrics are, other than to point out how beautifully judged the opening lines build into that initial “…and swim/I swim/Oh, swim”. And then the song drives toward the first chorus, before building and building further through telling lines such as “She’s there on the shoreline throwing stones at my back” until most of the band drops out leaving Scott to sing “All I am is a body adrift in water, salt and sky”. See? I can’t stop myself.
You can only imagine that only reason this song wasn’t a massive global Snow Patrol-style hit was thanks to the somewhat gloomy outlook on life. Not many hit songs have the refrain “Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?”, after all. But I really don’t care whether a million people have bought this, or ten. All I care about is the effect it has on me, and that is to listen to it again, and again, and again, and annoy everyone around me by asking them “Have you listened to it? Isn’t it great? Yes, I know it’s about topping yourself. I don’t care. It’s great, isn’t it? Why are you looking at me like that?”.
Because it’s great. Truly, epically, decade-best-of-list great. If you don’t like this, you don’t like music. Why are you looking at me like that?
1 Don’t knock ’em.
(Oh, and as a quick note to anyone who sends me MP3’s. I know about this thanks to a marvellous PR person. People who write blogs do listen, they are just often rather rubbish at it, and I’m probably the worst)