In the musical and emotional roller coaster ride that is Behind the Light, no song reaches a higher musical and emotional peak than “Don’t Trust Me,” the second additional track on the deluxe version of the album, and the fifth written solely by Phillip. Little is known about this song, though Phillip recently indicated in a tweet that it’s an older song he wrote when he was younger.
While Phillip is still very young, “Don’t Trust Me” certainly captures an energy that’s a little different from the one we find throughout Behind the Light, and which I think actually finds its parallel on another older song, the amazing opener from Phillip’s first album, The World from the Side of the Moon, “Man on the Moon.” Like “Moon”, “Don’t Trust Me” explores some big themes lyrically, while also highlighting Phillip’s talent for delivering rich, fast-paced, rhythmically strong lyrics that take almost precedence from the music, the message flowing almost like a stream of thought, guiding the song much more than the music does.
This doesn’t mean that the music in “Don’t Trust Me” takes a back seat, quite the opposite, as the more complex the ideas get, the richer the music becomes, going from a bare bass line and snare drum on the verses, to beautiful, dream-like strings on the bridge, to a full band accompaniment–including a gorgeous horn arrangement–by the end of the song. The effect is exhilarating, inspiring, transformational–a lot to take in, specially coming from a song that’s only three and a half minutes long.
Still, this powerful effect is due very much to the lyrics, which remain the driving force of the song, both because of their form–long, rich sentences that often have no clear beginning or end– and because of the ideas they explore: identity, self-doubt, self-discovery; the quest to understand one’s place in the world. In the process, Phillip transforms probably very personal experiences into universal themes, touching on ambition and humility, luck and free-will, on the idea of individual potential and fulfillment. Ultimately it’s about being present, fully conscious of being alive and able to seize all the opportunities that come our way.
I have said before that trying to understand Phillip’s lyrics is like trying to find shapes in the clouds, we could make them out to be about almost anything we want. This is certainly true of “Don’t Trust Me.” Still, when a song is able to touch us, to make us curious, to move us in ways we haven’t been moved before, it must mean that we are able to recognize ourselves in it, however intuitively or briefly.
In the end, “Don’t Trust Me” conveys a vertiginous feeling, that of understanding the vastness of the universe and our place in it: we remain small and insignificant, yet each of us unique and capable of the extraordinary. The feeling is also that understanding is fleeting, but that we go on, our quest for meaning, eternal.
Listen to an awesome live version of “Don’t Trust Me” below. And, if you haven’t gotten it already, click here to get Behind the Light!
Read about our previous “Songs of the Week.”
In April of 2014, with a few weeks still to go until the release of Behind the Light, a video surfaced of a brand new song Phillip Phillips had debuted during a show in his home state of Georgia. It was a heavy and dark song, fully-formed, and played in its entirety. The song, which very soon was revealed was called “Trigger” hinted at the direction the new album would go, which was at least a few shades darker than The World from the Side of The Moon and recently released single “Raging Fire.”
It’s sometimes hard for a song to live up to the very first version we hear of it (especially if it’s live) but upon the release of Behind the Light, the studio version of “Trigger” more than matched the live version in energy, intensity, expression and execution.
One of two truly heavy songs on the album (the other being “Fly”), “Trigger” is also perhaps the darkest of all, mainly because of its lyrics, a story of a mind tormented by terrible pain and memories. These are some of the most vivid lyrics as well, going from a straight narrative in the verses to more obscure, more metaphorical statements in the chorus that defy a strictly literal interpretation. Phillip—who has solo writing credit here—delivers the lyrics with deep, raw emotion, managing to convey a pain that is really beyond imagination.
The music, heavy, rich and layered throughout but even more so in the chorus, also very much tells the story along with the lyrics, with delicate guitar, and haunting keys and trumpet that echo the anguish of the words. Musically, the heavy chorus of “Trigger” is also one of the most satisfying in the whole album, offering a release that’s very different from the almost spiritual one we feel in “Fly.” Here, the heaviness is a channel, an expression, of the fear and desperation described in the lyrics. The beauty of the song lies in that, in its ability to constrict our heart with pain, but completely rock our souls too; a merging of seemingly contradictory emotions that’s incredibly effective and powerful. It is also perfectly fitting for the story being told in “Trigger,” for what can be more painful, more earth shattering in its devastation than to be witness–real or imagined–to a dying soul, to the last beats of dying heart?
Check out the video of Phillip and band debuting “Trigger” live. And if you haven’t yet done so click here to buy Behind the Light!
Read our previous “Songs of the Week.”
There are at least two commercially available versions of Phillip Phillips‘ second album Behind the Light: a regular version with 12 songs, including singles “Raging Fire” and “Unpack Your Heart,” and a deluxe version containing three additional songs, two of which are written solely by Phillip (a third, limited release by Target includes another additional track, “Grace”).
The first of these additional tracks on the deluxe album is “My Boy,” a song of such profound beauty–musically, lyrically, artistically–that it alone makes it worth owning this version of Behind the Light. And much like “Thicket,” “Fly,” or “Face,” “My Boy” reveals yet again another completely different colour and flavour to Phillip’ song writing.
On “My Boy,” he teams with Fin Greenall, singer-songwriter and frontman of British trio Fink, who lends the song a quiet, atmospheric moodiness that’s characteristic of a lot of Fink’s music. Phillip, who has already shown his ability to create intense melancholic landscapes ( “A Fool’s Dance” on his first album, or even “Creatures,” a gorgeous, still unreleased song), absolutely thrives in this mood, making “My Boy” one of the most fully realized songs on the album, and one of Phillip’s most conceptually sophisticated songs to date.
Phillip has said many times that he is a guitar player first and a singer second, but in “My Boy” it is Phillip’s vocals that really shine, managing to be stirring and raw, but also subtle and fully in control, a true display of skill meeting emotion. The same can be said of Dave Eggar’s cello, which matches Phillip’s singing with what I consider to be his most elegant, most masterful contribution on the whole album. The string arrangement, by Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer, brings to mind the intimacy and richness of chamber music, a small but deeply expressive piece full of emotion.
Lyrically, “My Boy” seems to portray a conversation made up of very few, very cautiously chosen words; a moment of such intimacy and sadness we almost feel witness to something we shouldn’t hear. “It’s hard to say what’s in your heart, the truth can break it all apart,” Phillip sings on one of the verses, and though we never hear what these truths are, we certainly feel the fear that the possibility of this pain may cause. Silence then, is the answer, unuttered words to delay making real what until then have been abstract ideas and feelings, and we hear this in the sparseness of words, in the spaces left in between the words, in the boomy percussion and the echoing voice. The guitar, played brightly and warmly by Phillip, is constant, repetitive, a reminder of the time going by amidst all the silence.
“Everything will be okay my boy” Phillip repeats quietly throughout the song, like a lullaby, gentle words of comfort from a father or mother to a son. Yet we know there is perhaps no comfort, that innocence is gone, that the world has been revealed in all its harsh truths. The song, as a warm embrace, rises and surround us, the chorus swelling, soothing and reassuring, yet still incapable of curing an irreversibly broken heart.
Check out some beautiful performances of “My Boy” below. And click here to buy Behind the Light!
Every week until May 19 we are writing about one song on Behind the Light. Check out our previous Songs of the Week.