Monday, July 24, 2023

This Year: 1999

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

Today, this week, for the year 1999, I have just one question:

Don't you wish you knew better by now
When you're old enough not to?

The song is Beth Orton's Stolen Car. The title is a metaphor. It's probably another break-up song: it's about something broken, some other person who came to visit the singer, and they had something together, once.

You walked into my house last night
I couldn't help but notice
A light that was long gone still burning strong

If I'm not careful, I'll quote every line, all of the ways I turns to you, all of the language about every known abuse, all of the questions about belonging. It's that powerful, that strong.
What did these two people have? Was it love, as the refrain implies?

While every line speaks the language of love
It never held the meaning I was thinking of

But maybe there was something political, or just social, behind it. Maybe they were too young, too focused, too much burning with that fire of youth?

You said you stand for every known abuse
That was ever threatened to anyone but you

Behind it all is that opening drone, another one of those great, immediately recognizable sounds that says "time for this song and no other." And that guitar line, as bright and questioning as Orton's voice, as the two trade spaces in the song from beginning to end.

I also love the way you can hear Orton's accent, those flat British vowels with so much of the North in them, throughout. So many singers try to sound general and from nowhere in particular: here Orton is a very specific person coming from a very specific place.

I'm embedding some random person's lyrics video rather than the official one; the official video is good and intriguing, but it follows the radio cut and leaves off the long, powerful guitar work at the end. And I can't have that, can I? Maybe, sometime in the history of the world, the radio edit has been the best version of a particular song, but I can't think of any examples.

I still don't exactly know what this song is about. I don't need to. I'm not supposed to. That's what makes it a great song.

I wish I knew better by now
When I'm old enough not to

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