"The House That Heaven Built" is a suitably epic title for the best song Japandroids have ever done. Its language is Gothic: all the nights forgotten and left for deada house built of living light, where everything evil disappears and dies. Amid these ruins Brian King explains that his relationship is over, but he wishes his ex well — I think.

The thing is, I’m not quite sure what King is singing in that chorus. The first set of lyrics I found had it like this:

When they love you, and they will
Tell them all, they’ll love in my shadow

Yesterday I looked up the lyrics again and found a different interpretation:

When they love you, and they will
Tell them all they’re loving my shadow

The difference is subtle but important. In the first version, King is saying that his ex’s future boyfriends may love her, but their love will never measure up to his. In the second, he seems to be calling the ex his “shadow,” suggesting a kind of permanent bond that not even the end of their relationship can sever. 

I think about these things because “The House That Heaven Built” is so heartfelt and propulsive that it almost moves me to tears — and I’d like to know what I’m saying as I shout it from the top of my lungs. The more I listen the more I think the second set of lyrics is the accurate one, but I prefer the first. In that version you have a guy saying I love you, and I accept that it’s over between us, and you will fall in love again because you are wonderful — but you should know that I was your great love, and that’s what sucks the most about this, and has moved me to sing today with all the sincerity I can muster. The second version strikes a more bitter chord — you still get King’s love for his ex, but the lyrics reduce her to a phantom appendage. I want to believe he thinks more of her than that.

The good news is I can believe this; lyrics don’t belong entirely to the artist. Thomas Mars is the only person who thinks the chorus of Phoenix’s “1901” is “Fold it, fold it" instead of "Falling, falling.” In “Tangled Up In Blue,” Dylan splits up on “a dark sad night” — but to me he always splits up “on the docks that night.” We take these songs and sing them as we hear them, and sooner or later they belong to us.

8 notes
  1. jamiesoncox said: Choosing between Japandroids and Destroyer for June 23 has very quickly become one of the most difficult decisions of the year.


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