Small Factory

For if You Cannot Fly

When I teach my struggling students how to write a descriptive essay, I ask them to pick a single adjective to describe the object or being that will be highlighted. Then, I request that they provide three points or arguments that prove this quality can be justified in their essay. If I was split down the middle, and my sterner half asked my floundering half to write an essay about For If You Cannot Fly, I would quickly pick “bittersweet” as my magic word.

My reasoning lies in the fact that this band seemed to epitomize the creative and emotional hangover that can happen when the “sunshine and lollipops” ethos of twee no longer fits and a major label knocks on your door and demands more than this. Their debut I Do Not Love You wasn’t exactly packed with “Kumbaya” moments, but tracks like “Keep on Smiling” and “I’m Not Giving Up” as well as their earlier singles pointed towards the sanguine sounds associated with their contemporaries. However, it seems like band seemed stressed, depressed and somewhat bitter by the time of its follow-up.

For if You Cannot Fly begins with the refrain “The Last Time I spoke to you, I said some really mean things/ It didn’t feel good but I felt better” and goes on to state “i’m not done, I’m having too much fun.” There is a bitterness to the lyrics on this album that points towards the reasons behind the dissolution of the band and the sad, self-destructive undertones to many songs. The chorus to “Hi, Howard I’m Back” includes the chorsu “I’m going to drink until I fall down” and describes a drunken soul who dreams about holding a lost lover. If you listen closely, this is a really depressing album.

It isn’t all razorblades and Draino. I always naively bonded with the song “Versus Tape” as it proclaims the joys of listening to a beat-up Versus cassette tape and how “that tape is the world spinning round.” Yes, it is equally naive to believe the truthfulness of this verse, but it resonated with how I would wander the streets of Western PA with a walkman and get so passionate about the albums that whirred in my pocket. It is idealistic, but it perfectly distills how a love of music can empower you for a moment or a lifetime.

Overall, For If You Cannot Fly is a subtle bummer, but includes enough glimmers of hope to open your eyes to the bittersweet qualities of our lives. Just dig beneath the surface and listen for the deeper meaning behind this album.