One of my hopes for this project is to lift up the love songs that show really solid, healthy relationships, in hopes that we all start putting them on mix tapes and having more realistic standards. This fantastic effort from the Kooks is just such a song.
I love what’s happening in this song. Our protagonist is the kind of norm-defying rebel that features in most rock and roll songs, and he’s gotten himself an equally non-conforming girlfriend. But he’s not trying to force her into being some flat Manic Pixie Dream Girl, nor does he expect her to sacrifice what she’s doing in favor of his rock and roll dreams.
At the start of the song, the singer reminds the girl that “I was hoping someday you’d be on our way to better things.” Like him, though, she doesn’t care for “paper dreams,” and is happily living in the present, in her “mindset.” She’s able to talk to him about her feelings, and he supports her.
My favorite part is the repeated “you don’t pull my strings ’cause I’m a better man.” Without the chorus that reminds us how much he loves her, I might think this was from a break-up songs (“kiss-offs” as Songza calls them), but instead we have a true rarity in a love song: an acknowledgment of the need for romantic partners to maintain separate identities and motivations! The singer is in control of his own life, as is his lover, and they are both excited to share those lives with one another.
He mentions her make-up and her fashion, but that’s not what he’s in it for: “looks are deceiving” he says, and she’s made him believe it. Maybe he thinks her style’s weird, maybe she’s not the kind of girl he would normally go for. It doesn’t matter, though, because he loves how different she is.
The idea that she comes to his show just to hear about his day fascinates me. Is this the only place she can find out what he’s been up to? Is he better at communicating through music than in just talking to her? Lots of people might hate having a partner who didn’t tell them about their day, but this lady seems pretty down with it; she comes to her boyfriend’s show and learns what she needs to learn. She’s meeting him where he is, and he’s doing the same for her.
This isn’t a song about the perfect relationship that everyone should aspire to. Instead, it’s a song about a relationship that is really great for these two specific people, in their specific circumstance. Sorry, Tolstoy, but sometimes every happiness isn’t the same, and that’s a beautiful thing.