Understated Classics #25: Long Gone Before Daylight by The Cardigans

The single biggest fact of life is that you are always going to be alone, you just might not realise it. Listening to The Cardigans’ excellent 2003 “Long Gone Before Daylight” will help you see that all our relationships are essentially screwed – but at least it sounds great while it does so.

“Long Gone Before Daylight” (“Long Gone Before Daylight”) plays the role of “The Empire Strikes Back” in a trilogy of great albums that The Cardigans released between 1999 (the arguably better and slightly happier “Gran Turismo”) and 2006 (the unarguably inferior and definitely happier “Super Extra Gravity”). “Long Gone Before Daylight” has more of a country sound than “Gran Turismo” or “Super Extra Gravity”, which meant that I ignored it for a long time: until the disintegration and failure of several relationships convinced me of its brilliance.

Take the opening track “Communication” which is, of course, about the total impossibility of communicating with someone that you’ve broken up with. After a break-up the thing that always kills you is the way you revisit your golden memories and try to work out how you could have done things differently. How could you have explained yourself in some better way? It’s all there in the devastating lyrics that end the song:

“And I hold / A record for being patient / With your kind of hesitation / I need you, you want me / But I don’t know / How to connect / So I disconnect”.

Of course I’m making this record sound like a massive downer. It really isn’t. This album is great help for getting over things and to get over things, you need to understand yourself and the fact that the pain of failure helps you grow. Both of the next two songs “You’re The Storm” and “A Good Horse” are about the perils of love, but they are quite jaunty: the former has stuff to say about how it’s the risk of love that makes you feel good (“I need some wind to get me sailing / so it’s the storm that I believe in”) and the latter is a cheerful dedication to rebound sex (“Now I’m trying out another heart / I’ve been whining about a fresh start / I’ve found myself a good horse”).

The centrepiece of “Long Gone Before Daylight” is “And Then You Kissed Me”, a long gruelling song that equates love with physical violence in an eerie detached fashion as the narrator spars with the lover who gives them “a halo around my eye” when she “pushed you a little a bit more”. It takes a few listens to really get into it, but then this is the band who produced gruesome videos of their lead singer being decapitated in an car accident (“My Favourite Game”) and of themselves getting squished while performing in a room with ever closing walls (“Erase/Rewind”), it’s dark but it’s a part of their character. Nevertheless, it’s telling that they revisited this song again on “Super Extra Gravity” (“And Then You Kissed Me II”) and barely toned it down at all. I guess it fits in with the long tradition of country music expresses dark emotions in its lyrics.

Man, you hit me!
Yeah, you hit me really hard
Baby you hit me!
Yeah, you punched me right in the heart
And then you kissed me…

Of course you could argue that the next song “Couldn’t Care Less” is crueller, if you happen to believe that indifference can hurt as much physical violence. The whole of this song is about how you can both be there in a relationship, aware of everything that’s wrong, and yet do nothing about fixing it. So the songs on “Long Gone Before Daylight” just pile on all these reflections and reiterations of how things go wrong in love, and at this point they lay on a beautiful ninety second instrumental coda - presumably in case it’s all getting too much.

Nevertheless by the end of the first verse of “Please Sister” they’ve already said that “you should know that love will never die / but see how it kills you in the blink of an eye” - the whole song is a plea for love even in the knowledge that it hurts you, the phrasing is intentionally along the lines of love as a fix. On this song, which is actually quite poppy and could have been a monster hit if produced with the same punch and sheen of the singles from “Gran Turismo”, the production is quite flat: every thing that should soar instead feels tinny and plastic (the same thing affects “A Good Horse” too). I think this is intentional and consistent with the depressed and defeated tone of the whole album.

“For What It’s Worth” is a little perkier, a pean to the joys of falling in love with someone you’re meant to be “just friends” with. I love how Nina’s voice really strains with the pain of having to sing “For what it’s worth, I love you” only to follow it up with “And what is worse, I really do”, the lyrics are great but the way she sings it really sums up the shittiest of shit relationship situations.

There’s some salvation on “Lead Me Into The Night”, a gentle torch song about finding escape from the pains of love in the arms of another (a more mature take on the sentiments of “A Good Horse”). Interestingly, the bridge of this song (“Oh you, you, you, it’s gotta be you”) is incorporated into “And Then You Kissed Me II” on “Super Extra Gravity”.

“Live and Learn” sounds uncannily like a Sheryl Crow song (for me, that’s a good thing, her eponymous second album will be one that I will write when this series resumes next June) and it basically plays out the message of its title. The last two songs “Feathers and Down” and “03.45: No Sleep” round things off on a gentler sleepier note. “Feathers and Down” is about wishing you could help a friend who is hurting (arguably a change in viewpoint to the rest of the album), it has a really nice arrangement that seems lighter and more lively than most of the rest of the album. Again though it’s about solace in sex, but it doesn’t play its hand until the last line “come baby, let’s drown / in feathers and down”.

I’m waking with the roaches
The world has surrendered
I’m dating ancient ghosts
(The ones I made friends with)
The comfort of fireflies
Long gone before daylight

The final song “03.45: No Sleep” plays out simply and sparsely with its graceful lyrics about being up at night and not wanting the rest of the world to wake up and find you. As a dyed in the wool insomniac, I’ve felt this sensation many times.

So, there you have it “Long Gone Before Daylight”: it’s not quite the total bummer that I’ve made it out to be. If you’re still smarting from a horrible incident in your love life, it might provide a bittersweet salve (though I’d try something much happier if you’re having a really tough time of it). My version has two bonus tracks, the second “If There Is A Chance” is a lot happier and sweeter than what comes before so that will cheer you up I promise.

This is the last understated classic for quite a while. I’ll resume again with number 26 in June next year.

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· Understated Classics, The Cardigans, Music, Rock, Thirteen

⇠ Ellen Gallagher at Tate Modern

Album Digest, September 2013 ⇢