I Was Happy : Kyle McNeill's Reverse Chronological Love Story...Maybe.
I don't love you like I used to.
No harsher words have been spoken, making for one hell of an opening statement. These lyrics are the firing of a gun waking you out of any sense of comfort and bringing you right into the heat of the story that is "I was Happy" by Kyle McNeill.
There is plenty to be said about the production quality and impressive instrumentals that create a setting the songs on this album can thrive in. I could also spend days writing about the potency of the style Mcneill chooses to sing with and how much life it brings to the track. But for this blog post at least, I won't be.
After listening, again and again, I'm choosing to speculate on something much more subtle and potentially a complete figment of my imagination, the mystery of how a first love came to die.
I would be surprised if how Mcneill laid out this album wasn't premeditated in the sense he has not only created a concept album but a story that plays out as you listen... if you're paying close attention. I first noticed this as I was going about my day and the echoes of the intro track ( I don't love you like I used to) kept playing in my mind. I remember thinking how final the lyrics felt, there are few other declarations that could bring the fatal blow to a relationship such as this. The finality of that song was just sitting in my stomach the same way an actual break up would, and I thought it was such a peculiar way to start an album. Maybe this was an album about life after a break-up? Track two might be about freedom from monogamy, all the indulgences of travel, lovers, and life without responsibility to another.
But it wasn't.
Little Nirvana was the follow-up track and it is what realizing apathy has taken hold of the one you love sounds like. The song makes reference to all the things that were promising about their relationship until "you got darkness in your eyes". To me if "I don't love you like I used to " is the song when you end a relationship, then "Little Nirvana" is when you come to grips with the fact your love has gone sour and needs to die.
With that connection being made my curiosity peaked, was he telling one story throughout the album, or were these songs independent of each other? I've always loved traditional stories told in untraditional ways and listening more to what Kyle had to say on this album I had a feeling that might be what was going on. I couldn't help but be reminded of a movie I found to strike a similar chord.
In the movie Memento, the story is relatively straightforward. It's about a man searching for whoever was responsible for killing the woman he loves. That's a story that's been told, again and again. I mean Bruce Willis makes a movie about that at least every six months. However with a few tweaks to the story like giving our protagonist short-term memory loss in the form of amnesia that adds some intrigue, but what really separates Memento from any other film in its class is the way that Christopher Nolan decided to tell the story.
The movie starts with our protagonist's played by Guy Pierce murdering a man he is convinced killed his lady. Begining with the end. Only after we know how the movie will conclude does he start working his way backward to show us how we got here.
This I believe is the hidden magic of the album. Kyle is telling a story most of us have experienced in our own lives and all of us have heard in seventy-five percent of songs on the radio, so it's not a novel idea to make an album about it. What is different, is to create this breadcrumb situation where you tell me right off the bat that this relationship is dead but if you follow the trail you might see how we ended up here. I fuckin love that.
If we go through the songs in reverse chronological order I think you might see what I'm talking about.
So we start at "The Prettiest Mermaid of Lonely" about a man drifting along alone until he comes across a girl. I like the analogy of the song too because the entire idea of mermaids came from pirates being alone far too long for their own good. Better still as the analogy goes the pirates usually new that their fate was doomed if they sought salvation from the temptress. Following that comes the title song " I Was Happy" taking a fond look at memories of the relationships. It touches on a lot of the quirks that you end up missing once their no longer around.
I've always been amazed by peoples capacity to ignore cracks in the foundation as to not have to deal with what confronting them might mean. To me, that's what "There's Something Wrong With This Fantasy" is all about. He sings about how the love is there but his inner demons keep nagging him, leading him to believe she couldn't really love him if she knew who he really was.
Now, here we are at a crossroads between ignoring the voices moving on forthrightly and indulging them with their favorite past time, some good old-fashioned self-sabotage. I'll admit I'm taking a bit of a leap here but in the way, McNeill refers to our protagonist as having "been bad" in the song "Strokin it Off" I'm gonna go ahead and guess this is a song about our character straying from the relationship. Which does make sense if we put it in context with the next piece of the story " Set Your Pans Where The Roof Leaks". The problems facing our couple have come to a head and with all the cracks in the foundation, it may not be enough to hold the weight. Whether I'm right or wrong it's hard to think of a more fitting metaphor for a relationship nearing its expiration date than a roof that leaks. You run around the house trying to catch the drops as they pour in, slowly at first then suddenly all at once. When you get one spot settled you hear the pitter patter of rain down the hall and by the time that is taken care of the first pan has taken on so much it is ready to overflow. This is what it is like when problem after problem starts to engulf you until they've all grown too big to manage. This is where our character finds himself in with "Killing You Didn't Work" in a house surrounded by buckets full of water. He talks about a dream where he is able to see what will happen to both of them if they stay together. He becomes a man drowning in whiskey and willing to drag them both to hell.
So that's where they stand, the cost of staying with each other is paid with their souls. With that realization, it leads us to where we began. If this is what our love will be then I cant love you. I won't love you. I don't love you like I used to.
My entire take on this album could and may likely be total bullshit, but that's not the point, the point rather is that Kyle McNeill has created an album so thought provoking I happily spent hours trying to understand what it could mean, and that is when you know you have really created a work of art.
Thanks for reading,