Monday, April 14, 2014

In Defense Of: “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories

This week's In Defense Of was contributed by Josh Inman, a New York City-based musician and product designer who's only hearing negatives (no no no no).

Released in 1994 in the dying days of grunge — on the soundtrack for a Generation X-ploitation movie called Reality Bites “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories is an unusual song full of unexpected twists far more memorable than the movie that spawned it.

When the opening strains of “Stay” play, you are greeted with high-pitched fingerpicking that let you know that this is going to be a sensitive folk tune. And when the opening lines of lyrics start “You say I only hear what I want to”, it is easy to write Loeb off as another in a long line of female singers hating on themselves because they are not good enough, and it continues this way for the first quarter of the song. 

Through the first verse, Loeb laments that she made a mistake in leaving this (I assume) guy. She acted out of anger and now regrets the choices that she made leading to their break-up. As with any breakup, she misses him, and — despite what the cause was
— she displays longing and sadness that it is over and at least some desire to go back to him.

But by the second time Loeb sings “You say I only hear what I want to”, the regret turns to righteous indignation that only comes with realizing that you were justified in leaving. From then on, the song goes from an apology to a statement of defiance and anger, and the structure of the song lends to this urgency.

Instead of following a standard verse-chorus-verse structure, the song ends up building verse upon verse until the ultimate climax. By not returning to the chorus until the end of the song, the listener is never given the chance to “reset” the song in their mind. This method of song writing is rarely employed to such effective ends. It is pointed and angry, which is difficult in a song that is musically bright and jangly. 

After three straight verses that play as a laundry list of unreasonable criticism leveled against her, complete with her defense, Loeb releases you with a final resounding “And you say I only hear what I want to."  The line that sounds like an embarrassed apology earlier in the song now sounds like exasperated sarcasm.  At the end of the song, the title “Stay (I Missed You)” means something completely different. If you only listened to the first half of the song you could easily make the mistake that the protagonist of the song is begging her ex to stay, but by the end you know that the ex is begging her to stay, and she is finally ready to cast him off and move on.  

In terms of the music, it is expertly performed and produced; in a sense, the level of polish on the song is perhaps part of its downfall. If this song had a little more grit, it would rank among the greatest break-up songs ever. As it is, “Stay” is a staple of ultimate 90s lists and adult contemporary radio, but it is difficult to reconcile the aggression of the lyrics with saccharine guitars and jazzy drums that make it sound frivolous. That is not to say I don’t enjoy the music — I do, very much it just doesn’t have the impact that I believe the lyrics warrant; that being said, this song is capsule of 90s angst and apathy wrapped up in a three-minute folk pop package. It’s a song that resonates with bitter broken hearts everywhere.

— Josh Inman

Previous Entries of "In Defense Of":
Jon Mann, In Defense Of: Goo Goo Dolls 
Matt Collette, In Defense Of: Starships by Nicki Minaj 

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