Listening to Have One on Me for the umpteenth time, I still find myself irrationally and spontaneously bursting into tears at the gentle phrasing and subtle moments. There is no biological reason why my hormones should be so out of whack, and therefore the only explanation for my behaviour is something deeply and uniquely powerful hidden within Joanna Newsom’s latest creation, something that it seems almost laughable to try and capture through mere words.
Superficial listeners of Newsom’s music may have her down as simply a spinner of fairytales, armed with nothing more than an unbridled imagination, a harp and an ethereal pitch. How disgustingly inadequate this assessment proves to be. The courtly drums and pipes of the meandering title track may transport you to a world of Countesses and tarantulas, but it is in fact the contrast of Newsom’s fantastical imagery with her simple honest observations that cut to your core with sheer human feeling, which marks her out as a lyricist.
‘In California’ exploits the poetic vulnerability of nature (goldfish being stolen from their golden state, the cry of the cuckoo) to emphasise the pleading of the chorus, and the submission in her confession, “Sometimes I am so in love with you”. The hymnal opening of ‘Baby Birch’ lulls you into a false idyll before a distant clanging guitar, infectious rhythm and Newsom’s cooing usher in a darkness hidden in the lyrics. Even the joyous country-pop lilt and jazz-bar breakdown of ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ thinly veils a tale of aching hearts.
‘Does Not Suffice’ tells of the farewell ritual of packing up your belongings after you finally realise “It does not suffice to merely lie beside each other/As those who love each other do”. It is the most straight-forwardly honest song on the album, and therefore the most powerful, as the woeful piano and shrieking strings merge into a frenzy of noise that invades your consciousness like the inescapable pain of a broken heart. Eventually it all fades away, leaving only silence, and an overwhelming feeling of emptiness that something beautiful has come to an end.
In the song it is a relationship that has run its course, but in the real world it is this tremendous two-hour musical adventure that has wrought such havoc on your emotional state. Like the sweetest of loves, its ending makes your insides ache and the world feel like it will never be the same again.
Words: Lois Jeary