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Title: ‘Honest’
Where to find it: ‘Honest’ single, ‘Coming Up for Air’ album (2015, RCA)
Performed by: Kodaline
Words by: Steve Garrigan

I have incredibly fond memories of the first time I saw Kodaline perform live. They were playing to a small crowd in the Gibson Room of Maggie Mae’s as part of an Irish showcase at SXSW 2013. Most of the people in the room were either Irish and/or were involved with the Irish contigent’s programming that year in Austin, so I was an outsider. I was so impressed by their live experience, I ended up seeing Kodaline 3 different times in Austin and their manager saw me at the Hype Hotel when they were supporting The Specials, pointed at me because he’d recognised seeing me so many times, and said, “you’ve come to see the boys so many times this week!” Ha. Early on, they recognised and appreciated us promoting them on TGTF. I’m proud of all of their successes, and I’m proud to call them my friends.

At that time, we didn’t have Kodaline’s debut album ‘In a Perfect World’ yet, which would not be released until June 2014. What we did have was a couple tracks from the ‘High Hopes’ EP and that was enough for me to determine that these guys were going to be a huge deal. ‘High Hopes’ was my favourite song of theirs until this one came along.

‘Honest’ by Irish pop band Kodaline marks the first time I’ve reviewed a song that hasn’t actually come out yet! The single got its first play on Fearne Cotton’s BBC Radio 1 programme last week and I only got around to listening to it on Friday. The most obvious thing to notice, even to a casual fan, is the added muscle and pomp of Kodaline’s new sound. (I discuss this in my single review that posted yesterday on TGTF.) I’ve yet to hear the new album, but if this single is any indication of what’s to come, it’s the sound of a more confident musical group ready to take their rightful place in the limelight of superstardom.

If you’ve been keeping up here on Music in Notes, you’ve noticed that I have a penchant for pop songs with deeper meaning. I was sad when Keane broke up. But you know how massive Keane was? Kodaline are ready to fill that void.

Many thanks to Lorna Kemble of the Kodaline Fan Base for her kind assistance in transcribing the song. I’ve made a couple of corrections in my version of the transcription below.

Update: a lyric video has appeared 17 December 2014, so I’ve added it below, and the lyric that was incorrect in my transcription is in bold below.

First, the words:

Verse 1
We don’t communicate, can you not say what’s on your mind?
And I see that every day you hide the truth behind your eyes.
Honestly, there’s no need for you to hide.
Talk to me, can’t you see, I’m on your side.
Honest, honest.

Chorus
Say what it is you’re trying to say.
But if you lie to me again,
I’ll be the one that walks away.
Is it in you to be honest, honest?
Is it in you to be honest?

Verse 2
I still remember the day we met, I was hanging on your every word.
I didn’t think I would ever let somebody see into my world.
Honestly, can’t you see, I’m on your side.

Chorus
Say what it is you’re trying to say.
But if you lie to me again,
I’ll be the one that’s walking away.
Is it in you to be honest, honest?
Is it in you to be honest?

Bridge
Is it all in my head, or was it something I said?
Because I’m trying to forgive, and now I’m trying to forget.
You’re telling me all of this, no more hearing of this,
it was all just a lie, was it all just a lie?
Now I’m walking away ‘cos everything that you said,
all that you ever tell to me is lies, lies.
Honest, honest. Is it in you to be honest?

Chorus
Say what it is you’re trying to say,
But if you lie to me again,
I’ll be the one that walks away.
Is it in you to be honest, honest?
Is it in you to be honest?

Spoken quietly outro
Is it in you to be honest?

Now, the analysis:

So if you read my single review linked above in the introduction to this piece, I kind of already outlined what I think this song is about. The basic premise is just like Robert Plant sang on the first Led Zeppelin album: “communication breakdown, it’s always the same!” How true this is! And it’s also true not just of romantic relationships, but friendships as well. Incommunicado? Well, unless you’re willing to meet the other person halfway or you’re both masochists, you can be sure your relationship is soon vamanos.

The message Kodaline is giving us in ‘Honest’ is this: you need real communication in any relationship for it to work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boyfriend and girlfriend having a misunderstanding, or a disagreement in a marriage, or friends that are having a tiff. This is amazing to me, because Kodaline has and has had a large fan base made up primarily of young-ish girls and women, and this song’s message can be applicable to all ages and both sexes. Whether they knew this while they were writing it or not, it’s clear to me this single has much broader appeal than any of their previous releases. For the ease of my writing this review, I’m going to make it a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but feel free to apply it to whatever situation you need it to be.

In the first verse, singer Steve Garrigan is setting the scene by explaining what he sees from his side, him getting the silent treatment: “We don’t communicate, can you not say what’s on your mind? / And I see that every day you hide the truth behind your eyes.” Further, he is gently coaxing out the other person, lovingly trying to assure that whatever she has to say, he will listen: “Honestly, there’s no need for you to hide. / Talk to me, can’t you see, I’m on your side.

The song has been pretty quiet, prior Kodaline-sounding up to this point. Well, until the chorus starts up. BOOM. The power of the chorus is massive, with synth chords that start in minor key. Think of it like when you’re watching a film and when you start hearing ominous music. It’s usually in a minor key to add to the suspense, to fill you with negative feelings. Yet when the chorus reaches its height in the last line at “Is it in you to be honest?”, the chord progression has turned major. It’s positive now. (I’m a big fan of purposefully emotional chord changes; Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane is a master at this [read my analysis of ‘Can’t Stop Now’ from last year for more].) In the case of this song, I feel like it’s as if the voice of the song is trying to be positive, as if he knows she *can* be honest. He has faith in this. And faith is a good thing.

However, you cannot ignore the fact that the rest of the chorus is some pretty heavy stuff. He’s been given the silent treatment. He’s been lied to when the other person finally opened his/her mouth. But he has come to a good place for himself: he is ready to walk away from the toxic relationship. Also noteworthy is that in the first chorus, Garrigan sings “walks away”, whereas in the second chorus, he sings “walking away.” This is important. Earlier in the song, he is only threatening to leave in the face of more lies. The action being described in the second chorus is him actually leaving. Him making a stand that they cannot go on like this anymore.

But like all things when you love someone, either romantically or platonically, things can get complicated. Like all human beings, in the bridge we see him second-guessing his decision to leave. Up to this point in ‘Honest’, the lyrics have been pretty placid and easy to keep up with. I feel like Garrigan’s frenetic delivery in the bridge is reflecting his own confusion and disappointment in finding out that the woman he loved and trusted, a person he gave so much of himself to, is really a liar: “You’re telling me all of this and then I’m hearing that it, / it was all just a lie, was it all just a lie? / Now I’m walking away ‘cos everything that you said, / all that you ever tell to me is lies, lies.” Probably one of the worst emotions we as humans can ever feel. He started out thinking it was him, not her: “Is it all in my head, or was it something I said? / Because I’m trying to forgive, and now I’m trying to forget.“ But wait! There is more as the song nears its finish.

For me, the greatest line in this song is “Is it in you to be honest?”, which is used as a refrain throughout. In all its uses except in the outro, the chord changes used to propel the line are, as I mentioned above, sounding pretty positive and inspiring. But it’s when Garrigan speaks the words – sadly, softly – at the end that you realise he’s fully acknowledged and accepted this woman in his life is full of lies. Though the ending is sad, it will lead him to better things, because he can move on from all this pain the lies she told him inflicted. “Is it in you to be honest?”, every time it comes up in here, is a challenge to the woman. It isn’t until the end where he admits he realises that she cannot be honest with him.

What does that really boil down to?

She has no integrity. How can she be honest with him, if she cannot be honest with herself?

I will end this analysis with this: I hope the crappy people in the world, those who think it’s okay to lie to and cheat their friends and loved ones, will listen to this song and finally GET THE MESSAGE. It may take us some time, but we WILL suss what you are doing. And you’ll be sorry when we’re gone.

Lastly, the song, in stream form as provided by the band. Update 17 December 2014: also included now is the lyric video released today, and the story that unfolds in the promo agrees with my overall interpretation above that the song meaning may not necessarily refer to a romantic relationship. (Thank you, thank you…)

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