A year ago I dissected Joy, so I thought today I would go in an opposite emotional direction. The chosen song allowed me to bring back repeat contenders, who happened to be my very first two winners (for Demons and Modern Man). Don’t worry, this sorrowful post won’t get you too down…
Let’s flip the script and not go chronological for this one. You can count on The National to deliver a moody song called “Sorrow,” from their 2010 masterpiece High Violet. It’s a slow burn, chronicling a feeling that “found me when I was young.” It waited and won, and now the narrator is stuck with something that has infused everything: “it’s in my honey, in my milk.” Matt Berninger uses his trusty low register, with the instruments tame and modest throughout most of the song. “I don’t want to get over you” uncovers the relationship angle of this sorrow, yet there is some uplift in the coda. Background vocals and extra keys enhance the drama and paint an audible acceptance of the emotion. While the song puts out a steady call to “cover me in rag and bone and sympathy,” the listener isn’t left all that bummed.
Distorting the title is Bad Religion and their accessible, poppy cut. Pensive opening lines about a plea to a father accompany shiny strums and rattling drums, until the real pace kicks in with “Let me take you to the hurting ground/ where all good men are trampled down.” What follows is a list of grievances about the perpetual existence of sorrow and the complete lack of answers surrounding it. “What if every living soul could be upright and strong?” Greg Graffin sings. The chorus reflects the post-9/11 search for closure and hope with its “There will be sorrow no more,” a curious bursting noise (bombs? guns?) puncturing each refrain. The song also finds Bad Religion at its most puzzlingly spiritual, even hinting at a mysterious messiah needed to “rescue us from ourselves.” It’s an excellently crafted, radio-friendly alternative rock tune that boldly asks the deep questions.
Winner: Here are two tracks from two albums that meant a lot to me in the years of their release, but the Bad Religion one is the straightforward winner. Its mood inverts the title of the song completely, while the lyrics state sorrow as a societal fact and then ask what comes next. Will there be sorrow no more? Perhaps for at least three minutes and twenty-one seconds.