Celebrating Behind the Light: Song of the Week 11- Don’t Trust Me

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!

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Read about our previous “Songs of the Week.”

Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of the Week 10 – Trigger

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.”

Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of The Week 9 – My Boy

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.

Celebrating Behind The Light: Song of the Week 8 – Lead On

If there is something that Phillip Phillips has demonstrated he can do extremely well–both on his albums and his live shows–is that he can play a mean, funky guitar riff. Another one is his ability to craft incredibly unique and distinctly sounding songs both as a solo writer and as a co-writer. “Lead On” is an example of both, an infectious, delicious funky song by Phillip and regular collaborators Todd Clark and Derek Fuhrmann. Full of lyrics you can’t help but sing along to, “Lead On” has become a set list regular during Phillip’s live performances, where it continues to evolve into one of the best and funkiest jams of the show.

Musically, “Lead On” has a great organic feel, with a driving rock beat that creates a sense of urgency from the start. Beautiful strings cruise above, contrasting with the beat but also accentuating it and counterpointing it later on. It’s vibrant, rich and very inviting.

"Lead On" Fan Artwork by @KelseyButler

Lyrically, “Lead On” is equally rich, with lyrics that fall effortlessly into the beat and string along seamlessly between verses and chorus. The lyrics are very visual too, creating evocative images with only a few words (“You are the blur in my eye as I wake up through the night” being one of my favourites lines). Phillip’s vocals, urgent and yearning, give an additional edge to the song, because despite the funky and rocking feel of the music, “Lead On” is not really a light song.

The lyrics describe a relationship, a slightly dependent one, even a little toxic, but one he’s not ready or willing to quit just yet. The feeling is of wanting to let go and lose himself in it, despite what this may cost him (“I can’t quit you, and I’m fine with being used”), even if it means his sanity and control (“You are the rarest drug, with every word I breathe, I feel the way you’ve changed me”). Although he yearns for release, he continues to plead to be taken along, maybe because this is actually the only way he can be free. The lyrics are probably about love, but songs, of course, can have multiple meanings, and Phillip, as we know, is never quite transparent with his words, finding ways to convey probably very personal feelings through images and stories that resonate with many while not necessarily revealing his most intimate world.

"Lead On" Fan Artwork by @slypinkspy

A fun but intriguing song, the sense of urgency on “Lead On” actually grows as the song moves along, culminating with that intense crescendo that literally leaves us “hanging on to every word.” In the end too, we realize that nothing has changed, as passion–like an addiction–beckons again into the night, surely stronger and more delicious, in this case, that any possible pain or doubt.

Take a look at some great fan artwork inspired by “Lead On” submitted as part of Phillip’s lyrics contest last year. And check out a couple of amazing live performances of “Lead on” below!

"Lead On"  Fan Artwork by Rachel Surridge "Lead On" Fan Artwork by  Megan Merren "Lead On" Fan Artwork by Lisa Mott "Lead On" Fan Artwork by  @TiffyD_897 "Lead On" Fan Artwork by @AllyxGoodman

Every week until May 19 we are writing about one song on Behind the Light. Check out our previous “Songs of the Week“. And if you haven’t yet done so, click here to buy Behind the Light!

Celebrating Behind the Light: Song of the Week 7 – Alive Again

“I see myself again, behind the light I flicker” sings Phillip Phillips on the opening lines of “Alive Again,” a song than encompasses in itself the many shades of light and darkness we find on Behind the Light. Like most of the songs on the album, “Alive Again” introduces a whole distinct sound, musical approach and production, with no other song on Behind the Light sounding quite the same. It’s a song of incredible intrinsic power and emotion, delivered and felt in an almost physical way.

The song was written by Phillip and singer-songwriter David Ryan Harris, who previously collaborated with Phillip on “Tell Me a Story,” one of the most beloved songs from The World from the Side of The Moon. “Alive Again” shares something with that song, which is a certain romantic, vulnerable quality in its vision of the world. This is thanks not only to the lyrics, but also to what is perhaps the most beautiful and haunting chord progression on the album, a bittersweet melody that continually moves between a major and a minor key, and which remains unresolved until almost the very end.

Phillip and David Ryan Harris

The lyrics on the verses are very delicate, very poetic. Like a dream, hope shimmers, flickers, not yet within reach, immaterial. Echoing the music, which juxtaposes warm and rich acoustic guitars with gorgeous electric effects, the images of the lyrics also shift between doubt and certainty, burning desire mingled with a lingering, weakening past. It evokes the idea of the sublime, of being caught between two seemingly contradictory emotions, of seeing the beauty that is contained within the suffering, the sweet moment when someone who has been very ill is about to begin walking again.

And then the chorus, when it comes, is big, the heavy synths piercing through the song like sunlight shining through heavy clouds. The feeling is that of having survived through deep darkness and pain, for you can’t feel alive again without something inside you having died. And what we feel–at least what I feel–through those forever shifting chords, is the dent, the indelible marks forever left by pain in the heart. It will heal, it has healed, but the scar remains, together with the memories.

It’s a fact that without darkness there would be no light, without death, no life. “Alive Again” acknowledges these truths. It also reminds us of another one: that when we have been in complete darkness and we finally manage to come out, the sun can blinding with its light. And so is life, sweeter and more precious when we are able to feel again what it truly means to be alive.

Check out a beautiful live version of “Alive Again” below! And click here to Buy Behind the Light!

Each week until May 19 we are writing about one song on Phillip Phillips’ second album Behind the Light. Check out our previous songs of the week!
Photo credit: David Ryan Harris.

Celebrating Behind the Light: Song of the Week 4 – Unpack Your Heart

Among all the light and darkness that we find in Behind the Light, “Unpack Your Heart,” the second single from the album, is one of the rare ones that’s almost all light.

Where confusion, heartbreak and betrayal seem to be the dominant emotions in “Thicket,” “Unpack You Heart” speaks of a love that’s unconditional, accepting and profound. Thematically, it could work as an extension of “Raging Fire,” and musically, it’s closer to that sound as well.

Co-written by Phillip, Derek Fuhrmann, Todd Clark & Greg Wattenberg, “Unpack Your Heart” shines because of its lyrics, but also because of its production, one of the most beautiful on the whole album. Much gentler than “Raging Fire,” it starts sweetly with Phillip’s rich acoustic guitar and intimate vocals. When they come in, the drums are very crisp, but incredibly warm, as are the cello, bass, and rest of the accompaniment. It’s the equivalent to a clear morning light, and if we listen to the lyrics, they find their equivalent in the music too:

“Meet me where the sunlight ends
Meet me where the truth never bends,”
Phillip pleads warmly,

“Bring all that you’re scared to defend
Lay it down when you walk through my door
Throw all of it out on the floor
Your sorrow, your beauty, your war,
I want it all, I want it all”

The lyrics speak clearly of acceptance, of letting go of the fear of being yourself, and the magic that happens when you do. The official video, full of playful, quirky animation, really captures this idea, the lightness of a free, “unpacked” heart. Further, the song speaks of authenticity, of acknowledging our mistakes, “madness” and ideals, not only in front of ourselves but in front of those who love us–it’s certainly a gift that goes both ways.

A third notion is that in love sometimes is easier to give than to take. But unconditional love means that we must believe—gracefully accept—that somebody may love us the same way we do: in spite of all our flaws, secrets and “wars.” It’s an all-encompassing love, between lovers perhaps (as in love and in passion one can be “all-consuming”) but one that goes beyond that; maybe that’s why these lyrics have been given a multitude of meanings, from the romantic to the psychological, to the spiritual. It’s a sweet song, an invitation, an extended hand leading into the light.

Watch some cool performances of “Unpack Your Heart” below!
And if you haven’t yet, click here to buy Behind the Light!