Song of the Day: “The High Road”

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Happy hump-day, internet. Today we’re going to take a look at another song that fits in this week’s theme of artist side-projects.

So far this week, we’ve covered “Leave It In My Dreams” by The Voidz, a band that formed from a side project started by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes, and “Whiteout Conditions” by The New Pornographers”, the Canadian super-group.

While the past two days we’ve looked at more recent songs, today we’ll be doing more of a throwback. Coming all the way back from 2010, we’re going to look at the song “The High Road”, by Broken Bells. But first, let’s take a look at the band itself.

Broken Bells

Broken Bells is an American indie rock band formed in a collaboration between Brian Burton, better-known as Danger Mouse, and James Mercer, lead singer and guitarist of The Shins.

The two artists first met one another at the Roskilde Festival in 2004, where they both learned that they were fans of each other’s work. Fast forward four more years, and Burton and Mercer began recording together in secret. Then in 2009, they announced the upcoming release of their first project together. The next year, Broken Bells finally released their self-titled debut album, along with the accompanying single, “The High Road”.

Broken Bells’ first album did pretty well, all things considered. But that’s what happens when your side project consists of two already big names. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 chart, and generally received very positive reviews. With all that they had going for them, it’s little surprise that their first tour had sold out shows.

Since then, Broken Bells has released an additional album, along with several singles and EPs along the way. Just last December, they released “Shelter”, their first single in three years. The single was the first taste of the upcoming release of Broken Bells’ third album. With the release of “Shelter” it may be safe to say that we can expect the new album to drop sometime before the end of the year. As far as predictions go, that seems a pretty safe bet.

The High Road

Much like in our discussion yesterday of “Whiteout Conditions”, the lyrics in “The High Road” aren’t initially clear. Instead, they’re somewhat obscured by the powerful imagery, as well as Mercer’s inflection, which doesn’t always make parsing out individual words easy. So our exploration of the lyrics will take a similar route. We’ll search for what clues we can find, and see if we can arrive at a satisfying and plausible interpretation.

We’ll start with the first verse, in which we’re presented with the initial context that we subconsciously carry through the song. We can split it up between two four line sections.

“We’re bound to wait all night.
She’s bound to run amok.
Invested enough in it anyhow,
To each his own”

Here, we get an interesting combination of pronouns, which only makes digging for meaning even harder. The first two lines suggest that there are multiple people waiting for a girl or woman to come back, from which we can infer that perhaps they are parents waiting for their rebellious daughter to come home. The last two lines could then comment on the resignation of parents realizing that their child is leaving the realm of their influence, and has to make her way on her own.

More Lyrics

The second part of the first verse seems to throw everything up in the air again.

“The Garden needs sorting out.
She curls her lips on the bow,
And I don’t know if I’m dead or not,
To anyone”

First, we can look at the connotations of the word garden, which are life, nature, and the potential analogy to the Garden of Eden, representing paradise. I think the last seems the most likely within the context, which would translate the line into: the paradise we thought we had is not the same anymore.

Then there’s the use of the word “bow”, which is pronounced to suggest the second definition: to bend or kneel in a gesture of respect. Add that to what we inferred from the first half of the verse, and it seems to hold up. The happy family is being disrupted by a rebellious daughter, who doesn’t respect her parents anymore.

Finally, the last two lines could refer to a growing existentialism, which often hits teens, and is a sign of reaching the age of maturity. Of course, it could also suggest a sense of loneliness and isolation, which seems to track within the context of the rest of the song.

Once again, it seems we got a little carried away with our analysis. We’re at the end of our space, so we’ll have to stop here. But feel free to drop your own interpretations down below.

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