Monday, May 5, 2008

“I Will Possess Your Heart”: Creepy or Touching?

When I first read the title of Death Cab for Cutie’s new single, I smiled uneasily. "I Will Possess Your Heart? It’s very...controlling. The “I Will Possess” is absolute, strong; there is no arguing. It’s authoritative, no room to wiggle. Who wants to be the heart in possession?

The language is unabashedly Death Cab, though–their lyrics use many strong, simple verbs: “I will follow you into the dark;” "Someday you will be loved" (both off of their last album, Plans). Declarative sentences are the backbone of the band’s lyrics, combined with melancholy meditations on the nature of love, featuring offbeat details in a melodic, relaxing vibe. This philosophy of atmospheric contemplativeness has garnered them legions of fans even before they made their major-label debut in 2005 with Plans.

Yet once I heard “I Will Possess Your Heart”, I fell right back into the Death Cab spell, the same one that their masterpiece Transatlaticism got me in several years ago. Like that album’s title track, “I Will Possess Your Heart” opens with a lengthy introduction, four minutes of piano and bass lulling us along. (The radio version condenses this considerably). While many listeners still find this song creepy, I’ve found that my initial distaste to the title has abated. Not only do I love the song, but I find it kind of...sweet.

Granted, if the guy singing is no Ben Gibbard and the attention unwanted, it might not come across that way.

But my perspective is different. The refrain of “You gotta spend some time, love/ You gotta spend some time with me/ And I know that you’ll find, love/ I will possess your heart”, sung with insistence, with passion, is the core of the song. The narrator knows that if the two spend some time together that they will end up together, that the combination of their personalities will lead to love. Merely spending time together–being around each other–is all that the singer is asking for. The singer and the object of affection know each other, and the singer is merely trying to convince the beloved that being together is inevitable.

All of these factors, when add up, do sound like damning evidence for a song about stalking, especially the insistence in the chorus and the opening of the second verse: “There are days when outside your window, I see my reflection as I slowly pass/And I long for this mirrored perspective, when we'll be lovers, lovers at last”.

You can take that line literally, of course, showing the narrator as a stalker. Add the two lines in the bridge ("You reject my advances and desperate pleas/ I won't let you, let me down so easily, so easily") that show that the singer has tried multiple times to win over the beloved, and on the page the interpretation is sealed. The refusal of the narrator to give up or move on—like in many situations dealing with love—only reinforces the idea that “I Will Possess Your Heart” is about a stalker unable to come to terms with reality.

But despite all this, I find the song endearing, sweet. Maybe because the singer’s so sure that all they need is time spent together; that’s all he’s asking for, because he knows that once they hang out, everything else will take care of itself. And how can you say no to just hanging out? The analogy of their love being a “book elegantly bound, but in a language no one can read just yet” means that their love is a foregone conclusion, but they can’t decipher the details of how to get there. It’s beautiful, soft to touch: a story that is heartbreaking but worthy. The persistence and assertion in the title and throughout the song only heighten the singer’s intensity and desperation, but he never comes across as hopeless or pitiful.

In the end, it comes down to delivery. The fact that this is a song by Death Cab for Cutie and is awash in contemplative strings means that, if it’s read as creepy or stalkerish, it’s not sinister or scary. The title is definitive, romantic even, and the song glides along, a comforting, cool background. He will possess your heart.