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Title: ‘Can’t Stop Now’
Where to find it: ‘Hopes and Fears’ (2004, Island)
Performed by: Keane
Words by: Tim Rice-Oxley

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Keane. A lot. About a week ago, the Twittersphere was all abuzz about their decision to split up. Then singer Tom Chaplin took it all back, saying it was taken out of context and what they really wanted to do was to take a break and concentrate on their own projects. Likely story, Tom. (I wrote a retrospective on the band here for TGTF.) More likely, they will only return to roll out the singles on a gurney for a greatest hits tour, in some time in the future to be determined when they’re not as successful as Keane was. And let’s face it, Keane are (and were) a behemoth in terms of piano rock giants. Millions upon millions of records and concert tickets sold, millions upon millions of fans across the globe.

For myself though, I can credit the absolutely beautiful voice of Tom Chaplin and the brilliant songwriting of Tim Rice-Oxley on getting me through some very tough times in my life these last couple of years. I recently was cleaning up my hard drive and came across an image I’d found on the internet and saved. It read, in stark white lettering across a black background, “If you could kill yourself without hurting the ones you love, would you do it? In a heartbeat.” It’s funny how a song can transport you back to another you, another time, another place, when emotions were running at an all-time high…and when you might have wanted to kill yourself. This is not that song. (Read the retrospective at the TGTF link above and you will suss which one I’m speaking of.)

I absolutely adore Keane’s debut album and it stands the test of time as an amazing collection of songs. What’s very interesting in that in my research on the retrospective, I had a listen to the entirety of ‘Hopes and Fears’ and was reminded just how good a lyricist Rice-Oxley is and how much I am going to miss Chaplin singing them. A lot of people describe the Smiths as being so unique in that Morrissey‘s lyrics were often so dark and emotional, yet witty. In my experience, the only people that can truly “get” Morrissey’s lyrics for what they are and aren’t the type to say, “the Smiths are so depressing, they make me want to slit my wrists!”, they are the people that have experienced the same kind of pain and sorrow. Keane isn’t known as a similarly depressing band, or even an emotional one. People who aren’t fans and the media are quick to assume they must be a fluff band, if they’re so popular and mainstream. I know for myself, I have listened to quite a few of their songs and just cried and cried and cried because I felt the emotion of the words. Fluff band? Hardly.

First, the words:

Verse 1
I noticed tonight that the world has been turning
While I’ve been stuck here dithering around
Though I know I said I’d wait around till you need me
But I have to go, I hate to let you down

Chorus
But I can’t stop now
I’ve got troubles of my own
Cause I’m short on time
I’m lonely
And I’m too tired to talk

Verse 2
I noticed tonight that the world has been turning
While I’ve been stuck here withering away
Though I know I said I wouldn’t leave you behind
But I have to go, it breaks my heart to say

Chorus
That I can’t stop now
I’ve got troubles of my own
Cause I’m short on time
I’m lonely
And I’m too tired to talk

Chorus-flavoured bridge
To no one back home
I’ve got troubles of my own
And I can’t slow down
For no one in town
And I can’t stop now

And I can’t slow down
For no one in town
And I can’t stop now
For no one

Outro
The motion keeps my heart running
The motion keeps my heart running
The motion keeps my heart running
The motion keeps my heart running

Now, the analysis:

Most people listening to this song assume it must be about a relationship. But I like how it can be interpreted a couple different ways, and for me, it speaks to not wanting to stay in one place for very long, and wondering about the impermanence of life and all that goes on within life. I can also relate to the impatience, of not wanting to slow down, afraid of missing chances. To be honest, the fact that I’m even alive here typing this for you to read is a big shocker to me; when I was a child, I was given news from my doctor that sounded like a death sentence. I’ve always known that any day, the thread of my life could be cut and it would be out of my control. I’ve had a couple of close calls (all acute medical situations that I had no control over whatsoever), and after each one of these almost deaths, there is something in me that worries about the kind of legacy I leave when it finally comes time for me to leave this plane. Will my existence even matter to anyone after I’m gone. I also worry about never finding my great love. I have tried several times now and every time I lose in the game of love, the amount of discouragement increases.

A couple years ago, after my second horribly bad experience, I made a pledge to myself: never stay in one place emotionally long enough, and you will never get hurt. If you keep moving and not concentrate on one person, you never commit your heart, so that person will never get inside your heart and hurt you. That was the theory, anyway. The problem for me is, I am so open-hearted and love so fully, the process of love always hurts me so badly. In this song, our protagonist is feeling guilty about not wanting to be the rock, the support system for someone who is not loving him back, and he wants to step away from the situation. I question if this is a case of unrequited love, a condition I have fallen into so many times. At your best, you feel this hope that one day the person you love is going to come round and realise just what a great person you really are. And love you. You think if you wait on the sidelines, providing encouragement, support, and friendship, that day will come someday. Maybe it does for some people, and for them, I’m happy. But for others, it can lead to an entirely soul-destroying, self-esteem crushing existence when that person cannot grasp what you feel for them, and they go out with someone else, unaware of how badly this is killing you.

Why is he feeling this guilt? Because deep down, he truly feels love for her and wants to be there for her. Before this moment, he never would have dreamed of walking away from her, even if emotionally she couldn’t give him what he needs and wants. But he’s come to the point where he realises he has been stuck in one place, waiting for the words “I love you” from her that will never come, and he hasn’t been living his life. By stepping away, he can remove the ties that bind him to her and try to make a life of his own, one that does not include her. As in ‘The End of the World’, he’s also realised around him the world has continued going on without him. Some of us tend to have our blinders on when we’re in love, and nothing in our lives matters more than the object of our affection. The fact that he’s realised he’s been wasting time waiting for the woman to recognise him and in the long run he will not be successful is a painful, yet necessary step in his acceptance that things between them will not change for the better.

I find the chorus particularly poignant. If she could hear him speaking, if she really knew how he felt about her, she would know how lonely he was without her. Instead, he’s having to kind of cut her off in the middle of a thought with “But I can’t stop now / I’ve got troubles of my own / Cause I’m short on time”. It sounds like when you’re talking to someone on the phone and they say they’ve got to go. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I get really offended when someone does that to me, especially in this day and age when so few of us pick up the telephone and talk to someone and I haven’t talked to that person in a long time. He’s trying desperately to be unemotional, to not listen to the hurt in his heart.

Having to state “I’ve got troubles on my own” hits hard, because it’s clear he has to say it out loud because she has never realised he had his own trials to deal with. Quite possibly, he has shoved aside any problems in his own life whenever she was around, so that he could be fully able to come to the rescue in case she needed help, but in so doing, he was putting her first and him second (or more likely, putting himself way, way, way down on the priority list, as in the case of us perpetual “givers”, we would give the shirts off our own backs in order to help a friend and never think twice that we should be #1 in priority). In unrequited love, whether or not this is due to narcissist tendencies on the other person or not, the target of our love seems or acts oblivious to the emotions of the other person. This makes unrequited love even worse: our protagonist feels so much for her, but she barely notices him, if she does at all. Any “normal” action she takes, such as showing attraction to another man, is equivalent to stabbing him in the heart.

The poignancy is also marked by the way Rice-Oxley has chosen Chaplin’s vocal notes to go up, starting at “time”, and then again for “I’m lonely and…” There is an uplifting yet also emotionally charged feeling the rise offers, and then appropriately, the notes come back down for “I’m too tired to talk”. He’s tired of the situation and now, he’s going to do something about it. It’s a hard thing to do, and he is crying all the while he is contemplating it, but he’s got to go through with it. The deceptively sprightly song also ends with a chord. As played by Rice-Oxley, this chord is so dark, almost funereal. If there was any question on the gravity of the substance of the song, there isn’t one anymore. That, my friends, is the sound of pain.

The words from the bridge of “And I can’t slow down / For no one in town / And I can’t stop now”, as well as the repeated words of “the motion keeps my heart running” in the outro, is reminiscent of the plot of the Doves song ‘There Goes the Fear’, in which Jimi Goodwin sings about running away to keep going and go on to better things, but to think of him after you’ve gone, though this is for the best: “Think of me when you close your eyes / But don’t look back when you break all ties.” If this song is really about a relationship that cannot be fixed, then both songs can be taken as good advice. What Rice-Oxley is saying in ‘Can’t Stop Now’ is no-one should be staying in one place in the hope that a broken love can be salvaged. No, the best way forward is for the protagonist is walk away from the situation, so both of them can move and heal.

It often feels in this Facebook age like if you’re refusing to be around and interact with someone who meant so much to you in the past that you’re the one who is being rude and unfriendly. This is also part of his guilt: “I said I’d wait around till you need me” and “I know I said I wouldn’t leave you behind” say he feels he’s breaking his promises to her, even as a friend. But sometimes walking away from a situation that can’t be fixed isn’t a sign of being a bad friend. It’s the realisation and acceptance of the situation. It’s giving him the chance to live his life, and giving both of them space. And letting both people move on.

Lastly, the song, baby Keane, live on Jools Holland in 2004.

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