Title: ‘Last Decade’
Where to find it: ‘Wolves and Thieves’ (2010, Fierce Panda)
Performed by: Goldheart Assembly
Words by: I’m guessing James Dale, but seeing that I’ve yet to meet them, not entirely sure
In a post-Mumford and Sons ‘Sigh No More’ era, there are loads of harmonising indie folk bands. But I still rate Goldheart Assembly as one of the best, even if they’ve not garnered the same kind of media attention as Mumford. Frankly, I think they run circles around the American equivalent Fleet Foxes. One of the most beautiful albums to come out of 2010 – and in my opinion, one of the most criminally overlooked – is Goldheart’s debut album ‘Wolves and Thieves’. It began my on again, off again love affair with their label Fierce Panda Records.
I think we all need something reflective, something to comfort us after the terrible tragedy of the downing of Malaysian Airlines’ flight 17. On Saturday, I went on a long run with this song on repeat, enveloped in its beauty. I had been reminded a couple days prior listening to it by itself on my mp3 player that it really is one of the most perfectly formed song in popular music in the last 5 years, probably in the last 30, if I may be so bold. ‘The Last Decade’ is elegiac, yet truly magnificent, and may the lives and souls of those we lost in that terrible accident rest in peace.
First, the words:
The dying leaves
Can grip no more
The Eastern breeze
Will steal them all
Take care my love
It’s all too soon
And all you need
Is space and room away from all my harmful ways
But you know I hate half the things I say
Your eyes are bubbles
Made of oil
And when they spill
They wreck these shores
My pulse has slowed
The atoms thin
But on the beach
The sea breathed in
and out and stole our hearts that day
But you know I’d go back but there’s no way
This is the last decade
Let’s not pretend we’ve changed
Come back home
See how the sun decays
Over our last parade
On our own
Soon there’ll be sleep, no pain
This is our last decade
This is the last decade
Now, the analysis:
The title of this Goldheart Assembly song ‘Last Decade’ gives us some important clues: a decade is a long period of time, and something is ending that has been in existence for a long time. I’ve been waffling between whether this song is about literal death or the death of the relationship. I guess this proves just how great this song is, that it can be taken in either context, or both. The beauty is apparent from the first two verses, with the first bleeding effortlessly into the second. Dying leaves, also referenced in the gorgeous Stornoway tune ‘November Song’ as I discussed last autumn, are a literal sign of death and the ending of something important, but they also indicate a chance for renewal. “The Eastern breeze / will steal them all” may refer to the east wind of Greek mythology, but in this song, it more likely is conjuring up the east wind as Biblical judgment of God, as of the wind that Moses summons to part the Red Sea, bringing the locusts to plague Egypt and allowing the Israelites to flee to safety.
The idea of escape brought into this song is terribly interesting, isn’t it? If you read about death in books about bereavement, it’s in the context of what effects that person’s death will have on the people who are left behind, not on the person who is dying and the ensuing emotional fallout. Of course, this makes sense, given who the audience is. And if you’re of the mindset that there is nothing beyond the life we have here, the person who is ‘leaving’ no longer has a say in what will happen next, does he/she?
The second half of verse 1 is where I start thinking it’s about a relationship that is ending. The main voice is insistent, emphatic that when he is gone, even if the end if “all too soon,” she will soon be free: “all you need / is space and room away from all my harmful ways.” I read this as if he’s saying she’s managed to dodge a bullet in his leaving. It seems to me that he’s saying this to lessen the brunt of his leaving because he realises his influence has been a negative one, and he’s regretful of this, wanting to make peace before the end: “But you know I hate half the things I say”.
Verse 2 follows the same measured, soft melody of the first, though now in the first half of the new verse, he’s picking apart the problems in their relationship. They were like oil and water, with him describing her eyes being “made of oil”, so when she turns on the waterworks when it is time for him to leave, like that BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, they will “spill” and “they [will] wreck these shores”.
In the second half of verse 2, he’s more contemplative as “my pulse has slowed” (death is near), but he recalls more carefree days they spent on the beach (a beach that wasn’t tainted by the sadness of her oily tears). I take ” The sea breathed in / and out and stole our hearts that day” that he admits that they probably shouldn’t have been together for so long, but the sea – an external force bigger and stronger than both of them – threw them together in a ‘love is blind’ kind of way. ” But you know I’d go back but there’s no way”: where is he trying to go back to? Before they became a couple? Before things went sour? There is a palpable gorgeousness in this line: he wants to make things right, but I think this was made purposely ambiguous because he realises, rightly, that we can’t change the past. What’s done is done.
If up to this point you have managed not to cry, Goldheart Assembly then brings in the big guns with their harmonies: the chorus. I’m just tearing up as I write this. “This is our last decade / Let’s not pretend we’ve changed / Come back home”: at the end of a relationship, who hasn’t wished things could have gone back to the way things were, when things were new and things were perfect? Or maybe have gone back to a point in time when things could have been rectified to have prevented this end?
“See how the sun decays / Over our last parade / On our own”: these lines appeal to my scientific mind. Scholars of astronomy agree that the sun, our sun, is like all other stars in the universe: one day, it will die. And it is slowly decaying as we speak. There is a dramatic, yet fragile beauty to the idea that on the last day that these two people will spend together in joy (“our last parade”), there is something that is dying, slowly, watching over them, and them alone (“on our own”).
“Soon there’ll be sleep, no pain” brings it all back down to earth and is self-explanatory: there will be an end, where the pain that survives while the entity is still lives will no longer exist. It is little comfort now to those who lost loved ones in this tragedy, but like with 9/11 and all other horrors against humanity in which we’ve senselessly lost human lives, there will come a day when those left behind will come to some peace and will go on. We have to hold on to that hope.
Lastly, the song, via its official promo video from November 2010. What are these chaps building? Suggestions and explanations welcome.