Listen to this track by British jangle popsters by way of Northern Soul influences meeting the London bedsit, Spearmint. It’s “Isn’t It Great To Be Alive?”, a sardonic sentiment as stuck inside a tale of hopeless longing, and taken from the band’s 1999 debut A Week Away.
The subject of unrequited love, and often the cruelties that simple missed cues can cause, have been fodder for the pop writer for generations. In more recent times, even more so, when the idea of the swaggering rock n roll singer had given way to a more sensitive side, when the hero did not always get the girl. In fact, more drama surrounds those songs when the girl is so close, yet so far away, a trusted friend who doesn’t know that she is the object of passionate love at all.
That’s what we’ve got in this song, with a man who is otherwise unseen by the one he loves as anything other than someone she hangs out with. But, what makes this tale of unrequited love different?
Spearmint formed in London in the 90s, at just the right time for indie radio in that city, specifically XFM, to begin building their official playlists. As a result, Spearmint’s song “Sweeping the Nation” was on it, one of many songs the band had crafted, and subsequently receiving heavy airplay. Even while not being a part of the more internationally recognized Brit-Pop scene, Spearmint built a loyal following, with songwriter Shirley Lee’s command of an impressive pop vocabulary as their main engine. And this is one of my favourite songs of his, a short story of would-be lovers on a night out, although with a break for the woman to ‘ring her man’. There is a deep well of emotion in that one line alone.
Pop music can be idealized, and happy. But, sometimes going up, up and away in my beautiful baloon can end in running out of oxygen. In this sense, some of the most affecting songs are a reflection of life, not a redefinition of how it should be. Sometimes, people fall in love with their friends, for instance. Sometimes, that love is not returned in the same way. And, perhaps most importantly, that story very often keeps going and the routines of that friendship endure. But, the tension between them continues, and is not resolved. That’s life.
Sometimes, it’s not that great to be alive, indeed.
That’s why so much of pop music, is indeed pop. It’s accessible, not just because it’s catchy (which in this case it certainly is …), but because it tells a common story, of what it’s like to be in love, while not being loved back in the same way. When we see our lives reflected back to us, that makes a powerful brew.
For more information about Spearmint, check out Speakrmint.net.