Special contribution by Thad Williams.
Phillip Phillips’ 4th studio album Drift Back has finally been released after a five-year wait, and the collection of 10 songs brings a mix of both new and familiar sounds to convey a series of different perspectives on one common theme: Love. The eighth track on the album, “Long Time,” is no exception to this pattern, providing a look at love as it grows throughout the years and as the lives of the people involved change over time.
At 2:41 seconds, “Long Time” is also the shortest song on the album, but it has just as much of an impact as the rest of the songs. While Phillip Phillips is more traditionally an Alt Rock artist, he occasionally dips into the area of folk music, most notably with his megahit song “Home.” “Long Time” sees more of a return to that genre with the only instruments featured in the song being acoustic guitar and strings.
The song begins with a relaxing, upbeat guitar melody. The guitar is also somewhat rhythmic in how it is played, filling in for the lack of percussion throughout the rest of the song. Structurally, the song features two verses and one repeated chorus, excluding a bridge entirely. Instead, after the second chorus, when it almost sounds like the song is over, a beautiful string quartet takes over and outros the song with a melody reminiscent of the chords and melody the guitar provided for the rest of the song. The strings are alluded to during the second chorus as well, providing background to the guitar and Phillip’s layer vocals. This is also the first and only time in the song any instrument other than guitar can be heard.
While Phillip has used strings in a few of his songs on previous albums, including “What Will Become of Us” on Collateral, or “Thicket” on Behind the Light, this song, along with many songs in this newest album, heavily incorporate strings into the mix. One of the newest sounds with this album, though, is the heavy feature of piano, which really is a relatively unheard sound for Phillip’s songs. It is clear there was a lot of experimenting musically that went on during the time it took to make this album. Despite what could be seen as a shift in musical direction with this album, he still manages to make it fit within the context of his work, and these songs feel right at home with his previous albums despite their differences.
Looking at the lyrics and message of this song, “Long Time” continues the motif of this album by being another love song. As the name suggests, the phrase “Long Time” is repeated throughout the song as he reminisces on all the changes that have happened throughout his life and relationship with his family.
The first verse describes how much he feels he has changed over the years, almost to the point of not knowing who he is anymore, or of not being able to recognize who he was since he first fell in love. He begins the song by stating, “It’s been a long time since I fell in love, it’s been a long time, am I still enough?” He then says, “it’s been a long time since 21,” most likely referencing when he started his career on “American Idol” in 2012.
These callbacks to significant moments in his past all lead to him questioning who he is as a person now, seeking validation that he is still enough for the person he loves despite how much he has changed over the years. He ends each verse with the phrase, “In the hands of the world in the search for the promised land,” before going into each chorus. This most likely describes how his life is influenced by the world around him and the things that happen to him as he searches for who he is and what he should do with his life.
The chorus asks the question of if his love would go with him wherever he goes, and if they would stay with him if they had all eternity to spend together. Despite the doubt of if he is enough for them, he then claims that all he knows for sure is that he would give all of himself to them, just to have them lean on him for comfort. It is clear that Phillip is describing the doubt he faces within himself as he navigates a relationship with his wife, but the one thing he doesn’t doubt is that he loves her and would do anything for his family. The chorus ends with him saying “It’s been a long time for me,” showing that all the things they’ve been through and all the doubt he has felt about himself have given him a new perspective on his life and feeling like it’s been a lot longer than it seems.
The second verse shows a bit of a shift from looking at his past and the start of his relationship and career, and now looks at the birth of his son and the love he feels for him. He describes how they now have a new life and a new son that they now need to raise and show what kind of person to be. It’s described as a potentially hard road, and even more doubt is presented as he hopes that his son will understand what they are trying to teach him as he grows up. But despite the potential hardships, Phillip then seems to feel like it’s all worth it in the end, and that they will continue to persevere together no matter what they face. The song ends after this with one more instance of the chorus, once again showing his love for his family despite whatever doubts he may have about himself as time passes.
Despite being the shortest and one of the most minimalistic songs in Phillip’s newest album, “Long Time” is still one of the most impactful pieces in the collection as it describes a feeling of doubt that almost everyone can relate to in some way. That feeling of not being sure if you know who you are anymore as you grow up and change over time. That feeling of not knowing if you are good enough for the people you love or if you’ll mess things up. But despite that doubt, you can be sure that your love for them is real and will never change. Phillip is telling us that it’s okay to change and grow over time, and that it’s not a bad thing if it feels like it’s been such a long time since things were the way they used to be. If you remain sure of your love for those around you and you continue to persevere no matter what you face, it will all be worth it in the end.
This feels like the perfect song to include near the end of the album as a reminder that love isn’t always easy, but the payoff in the future is greater than you realize when looking at your past.