Song Analysis - Somewhere Only We Know

on Thursday, November 8, 2012
The song “Somewhere Only We Know,” by the band Keane is filled to the brim with symbolism and metaphor. The entire song, written by Tom Chaplin, Richard Hughes, and Tim Rice-Oxely, has a resigned, nostalgic, and sometimes ever mournful tone. The lyrics, instrumentals, and vocal performance set this song apart from the common fair of Top-Forties and twenty-four hour radio. To those who do stumble upon it, it is a welcome break, and an auditory treat.

The song begins by describing the narrator returning to a place he he knows, “like the back of [his] hand” (2). The place has changed since he was last there, but he still takes comfort in it’s familiarity (4-5). The song goes on to describe the narrator longing for something, or someone, that he once had - perhaps a friend, a lover, or perhaps a feeling of youthful happiness he has lost. The narrator describes himself as, “old” and, “tired,” providing reasons for this missing person or thing to, “let [him] in” (6-8). He wishes for a new beginning, but with something from his past. The next verse describes the narrator coming across a fallen tree, and, “[feeling] the branches of it looking at [him]” (9-10). He says the place is one he used to love, and one that means something to him and his lost companion or thing. He also describes the place as changed, as if he has trouble reconciling it with his memories; he also mentions dreaming of this place, but finding that his dreams no longer match the reality. The narrator then pleads with absent friend or lover, desperately asking them: “If you have a minute, why don’t we go / somewhere only we know” (17-18). The last line, before the chorus repeats, says that, “this could be the end of everything” (19). This could mean the end of the relationship between the narrator and his missing someone, the end of the little bit of happiness he still held onto, or in a darker context, signifying depressive or even suicidal thought. The narrator is crying out for help, “for something to rely on” (6). And yet, because of this expression of wanting someone to help him, the song still seems hopeful. It is about relying on someone, and knowing you can go to them no matter what the circumstance.

The writers utilized many thought-provoking literary devices in this song. The entire song is a conceit, as the lyrics are filled with fanciful symbolism and metaphor. For example, the symbolism in the first verse. The, “empty land,” the narrator describes is symbolic for loneliness, and suggests that the narrator was once lonely and found happiness, but now he finds himself alone again (1). The line regarding the narrator’s feeling of the branches of the falling tree watching him personifies the tree, but is also symbolizes uncertainty, self-doubt, and possibly the ghosts of his past (8-9). The chorus, in which the narrator begs for some comfort or company, echoes with assonance: “So why don’t we go, somewhere only we know” (20). All of this adds to the power and resonance of the song as a whole.

Listening to the original track by Keane only adds to the emotion of the lyrics. Unlike many popular songs nowadays, the lyrics are clearly audible. The voice of the lead singer is soft and quavering at the beginning, building power as the song continues. The vocals are accompanied by as steady piano rhythm, interspersed with a similar drum beat. By the climax of the song, the singer’s voice is powerful and begging, but it trails off softly at the very end. “Somewhere Only We Know” was also covered by Darren Criss on the television phenomenon Glee, and his vocals were accompanied largely by an a cappella choir. Criss’s version of the song has a much more hopeful tone to it than the original, partially due to the context of the television show, but also because of the more triumphant backing vocals. Both versions, while different, still capture the essence of the song.

Somewhere Only We Know” is a musical triumph nowadays, when so many of the most popular songs have unimaginative lyrics and auto-tuned, dub-step background noise.The song is a perfect soft rock ballad, telling a story while being pleasing to the ear. The lyrics are symbolic and poetic, the vocals are unique and passionate, and the music is simplistic, yet powerful. While it is not a song most people will have on their iPods, it is no doubt a favorite of those who have discovered it.

Work Cited:

Chaplin, Tom, Richard Hughes, and Tim Rice-Oxely. Somewhere Only We Know. Rye, East Sussex: Heliocentric Studios, 2004. Web. 7 Nov. 2012. Hopes and Fears.


The Original Music Video:

The Glee Version:



The Lyrics:

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

Oh simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?

Oh simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute, why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know

Oh simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute, why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don't we go? So why don't we go?

Oh, this could be the end of everything
So why don't we go somewhere only we know?
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know


10 comments:

Joie Jernigan said...

Your essay is really well written. The explanation of the song gives a more in depth look behind the song. You also talk about the literary elements in a way that it is easy to understand. I believe this because I have always had trouble differing between them.

Angela Sleeper said...

This was an amazing analysis! You really looked into everything when examining the symbols and words in the song. I really like the different meanings you found for every one thing, some with two meanings, and how they contributed to the song as a whole. ^^ Awesome writing, too! Love it!

Eva Vanderzande said...

You're the only person that understands my interpretation of the song. Thank you! I don't think the song is about a relationship, it is in my opinion about a man who has thoughts to end his life and his seeking for help.

Leslie Lim said...


I love this post, and I was absolutely thrilled to see the other links that you published that go along with this topic. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am happy to be a new follower. :)

Count
www.imarksweb.org

Cindy Dy said...

So happy to be given a privilege to post a comment here. You have a wonderful site. Thank you for the effort to publish this.

Bry
www.gofastek.com

Jay Esgasane said...

The first time i heard this song i already counted it as one of my favorites. I also love David Archuleta's cover. My 6 years old niece and her little brother who is 5 repeatedly plays it on their celphone on a daily basis. I'm just glad that they also love this song.

Gracee Papellero said...

I thinks its all about a man who is lonely, and hes reminiscing the times that he used to be happy or complete with somebody or a place. He misses that someone and that old feeling keeps on hunting him. ~maybe~

sarah lee said...

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Michelle Nakashima said...

I'm from Brazil.

Me and a friend were yesterday discussing the lyrics of this song. And we come to the conclusion that she actually tells the probable story of a depressive or suicidal. Very good text!

Thanks.

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