Feel the tears

Posted on: 27 May 2020, by :

In modern popular culture, songs of love that dwell on the pain and tears of a failed relationship are a common type. Belonging to the broad category of pop with the oddly non-modern term ‘ballads’, they are frequently released not only because they address the heartbreak of breaking up and lost love that most people experience but also because they fulfil a necessary function: being slow or slowish, they relieve and break up what would otherwise be an unrelenting succession of fast songs in albums and in the sets performed in rock concerts. Some from the 80s became classics that we do not forget, like Wham’s Careless whisper (1984) and Prince’s Nothing compares 2 u (1985) in the extraordinary video version of Sinead O’Connor (1990). Others tended to become lost, despite their qualities, in the great procession of pop and rock bands that came and went.

Two mini masterpieces are Leaving me now (1985) and It’s over (1987) from the heyday of the English band Level 42, when their music was in transition from jazz-funk to what was sometimes known as ‘sophisti-pop’. Both concern the tears and acrimony of broken-down love, when one partner leaves because staying has become impossible. Leaving me now conveys the bewildered hurt of the person left behind. It’s over takes the viewpoint of the one leaving, aware of the emotional damage he is causing: ‘I should have loved you more. Instead I’ve torn your world apart.’

It seems true love is so rare,
seems all I've known is deceit,
your laughter fills the air,
once more I'm sensing defeat.
And I suppose you're leaving me now,
I was so sure, now I'm so full of doubt,
and I suppose you'll be leaving this place,
Just like the smile you wiped from my face,
this time.

I always gave my best,
your memory serves you so badly,
some people kill for less,
yet I'd still die for you gladly.
But I suppose it's my turn now
to play a scene that's familiar somehow,
I turn the page, and you walk away,
not even love could bring you to stay,
this time.

Walk away, so easy!
Once more I'm learning, 
in the depths of my despair,
your lies confirming 
true love is so rare.

And I suppose it's my turn now,
there's no more love, only feelings of doubt,
the midnight sea that swells in your eyes
takes just one look to know I'm still mesmerised.

And I suppose you're leaving me now,
I was so sure, now I'm so full of doubt,
I turn the page, and you walk away,
not even love could bring you to stay,
this time.

Level 42 performing at Wembley Arena on 30 November 1986.

Both songs were regularly played at the band’s gigs decades later: see, for instance, this performance of Leaving me now from October 2018 in the Brighton Dome. Two members of the band’s original lineup remain: Mark King (bass and vocals) and Mike Lindup (keyboards and vocals).

Lyrics like these won’t win any prizes as poetry, and such performances are easily dismissed by pop-music critics when the singing lacks the presence of George Michael or the cool of Bryan Ferry. But that is to miss the point. The beauty of these two songs — as both compositions and live performances — lies in their highly creative harmony, brilliantly controlled to enhance the bittersweet emotions. It helps that Mark King is one of the greatest bassists of his time who manages to play exquisitely in a complex way while being the lead singer, but these are collective achievements: they are team-written compositions and the whole band is responsible for the craft and rhythmic qualities of the performance.

I won't be here when you come home,
I'm sorry if you don't understand,
forgive me if you can,
but I can see another road
and I ain't coming back.

Don't look for me around this town,
’cause I will be so far away
you'll never find me anywhere,
and I won't take no souvenirs,
no perfumed picture promises
- because it's over
and I ain't coming back.

You gave me everything
and now I'm breaking your heart,
you know that I don't mean
to tear your world apart.

I would never leave
if I thought you couldn't stand the pain.
A letter in the hall is written on the wall,
a letter with no words of love at all
- because it's over
and I ain't coming back.

And as I close the door
I know I'm breaking your heart,
I should have loved you more
- instead I've torn your world apart.

And as I walk into the lonely afternoon
I feel sad enough,
I feel bad enough.
And all the times 
when you are lonely where you are,
please don't hate me then,
I just couldn't not pretend, oh no

Feel the tears,
I can feel the tears
running through the years.

Level 42 performing at Valby Hallen, Denmark, in 1988.

It’s over at a concert in the Indigo2, London, in October 2010: part of the band’s 30th anniversary tour.