We never know when this time is the last time. Whether it’s an event outside of our control or a personal struggle that we’re trying to curtail, we seem to have a hard time reshaping our circular selves. Perhaps it’s possible with a proclamation: “this is the last time.” For a title bout featuring the longest title yet, here are a pair of entries that deal with—what else?—the ebbs and flows of the heart.
The National’s contribution starts slow and easy, a simple guitar progression getting the listener “sucked in” to the song’s quandary. The pace picks up at the song’s best lines: “Oh, don’t tell anyone I’m here/ I’ve got Tylenol and beer.” That’s some great imagery in what is an otherwise drifting narration. “Your love is such a swamp” seems to be the main issue, which is tough when “you’re the only thing I want.” Matt Berninger’s sad sack connotation is given proof by the too-on-the-nose “I said I wouldn’t cry about it” and yes, this tune is a definite downer. Thankfully it has some classic National tricks, like the repeating rhythms of the stanzas (underscoring and contradicting the title) as well as a distinct coda. This last is string-laden and concerned with the ubiquitous musical “Jenny” who may be represented by the female backup vocals lamenting that “It takes a lot of pain to pick me up/ It takes a lot of rain in the cup.” Is this really the last time? Doubtful.
Song number two is decidedly more poppy, having a spot on the 1980s schoolyard vibe of the band’s No One Is Lost. Headed by co-singer Amy Millan, the story starts at the bus stop and runs on through summer school. “I’ll never be the one to break your heart,” the protagonist says to her pursuer, “You’re never gonna see my face when you’re looking for it/ And you’ll see I’ll never be replaced.” This is a keyboard-pop romp through breezy days, the narrator finding moments of glee in realizing her freedom and power. While she may have indulged in the past, she realizes outright that “You never loved me/You loved the chase.” The song has a sense of fun winding down, of summer coming to an end, of people growing up. And the line “You always sucked at your goodbyes” may look simple as written, but has a perfect pop delivery used to segue to the pleasing chorus of the title.
Winner: Here are two hardworking acts whose latest albums both feature the push and pull of relationship tensions. Each track takes a similar angle toward the title, with The National using one of its more lowkey offerings from Trouble Will Find Me, and Stars offering theirs as the shortest song on the record. Though I often appreciate the murky meaning of The National’s lyrics, this time around I’m partial to the clarity of the Stars song. Clocking in at almost half the length, it’s the celebratory flipside to the concept of a last time, one that sticks more in both story and sound.