As The Borg might say on Star Trek, “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” And so it was that at the beginning of 2012, few people (in America, at least) had ever heard of the Belgian-Australian singer Wouter De Backer, known as Gotye. But by the time summer rolled around, it was hard to go a day without hearing his ubiquitous melancholy hit ” Somebody I Used to Know,” whether on the radio and TV … or at grocery stores. Given such cultural saturation, it’s no surprise that more than four million folks have downloaded the song.
Featuring a style that samples and fuses diverse bits of musical DNA from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Gotye’s groove sounds paradoxically vintage and up-to-the-minute contemporary. The result? It doesn’t sound like much of anything else out there at the moment—largely because Peter Gabriel isn’t really out there right now.
As for the lyrical content of Making Mirrors, it makes the most of two time-honored pop music traditions: mourning love that’s slipped away and joyously celebrating the rare, fragile moments when it blossoms.
On “I Feel Better,” a depressed man (“There was a time I was down, down”) finds hope in a new relationship (“That’s when you gave me a reason to smile again”). Ditto “In Your Light”: “When I’m in your light/Nothing brings me down.”
We hear more of the same on “Save Me.” Here, someone who’s given up on himself (“And I could not love/’Cause I could not love myself/Never good enough, no”) finds a special person who changes all that (“And you gave me love/When I could not love myself/And you made me turn/From the way I saw myself”).
“Giving Me a Chance” involves a man who knows he’s made mistakes (“You know I never want to let you down/It cuts me up to see you so sad”) expressing his gratefulness that the person he’s failed is giving him a shot at redemption (“I know I let you down/But you’re giving me a chance”).
Album closer “Bronte” promises an aging friend (or perhaps relative) on the verge of death that a relational bond will transcend the grave. While grim in its tone, “Eyes Wide Open” offers a sobering assessment of humanity’s love affair with consumption. “Smoke and Mirrors” offers a keen psychological takedown of someone who’s lived a life of deceit so long he now believes his own lies.
As noted, Gotye serves up several songs in which he talks about how romantic relationships have lifted his spirits and helped him out dark emotional places. That’s a good thing. Except when it isn’t.
There’s something about the way this singer repeatedly couches his emotional well-being in all-or-nothing terms that feels just a tad unhealthy. On “Save Me,” for example, we hear, “I was anxious/Was better just to stay in bed/Didn’t wanna fail myself again/ … I was not well/But I could not help myself/I was giving up on living.” But by the end, he’s speaking of a relationship in a salvific way: “And your patient love/Helped me to help myself/And you saved me.” “I Feel Better” follows the same template. Things go from all bad to all good with whiplash-inducing speed. “I was down, down/ … I only have to see you and then/I feel better, better, better than before.”
It is indeed wonderful to feel better when love comes to town, to borrow from Bono. But there’s a tinge of narcissism in this mix, and “In Your Light” helps illuminate it. “When I’m in your light/Nothing brings me down,” Gotye sings. “If only I could always feel just as I do right now.” Note how he’s not focused on who she is, but rather how she makes him feel.
That mindset helps us understand at least a little bit what’s happening on “Easy Way Out,” one of the album’s more opaque renderings. Here, a man second-guessing a failed relationship is struggling emotionally (“Putting on a brave face/Trying not to listen/To the voices in the back of my head”) and “looking for an easy way out.” Out of what isn’t completely clear, so some fans may read suicide into the mix because of the lines, “Brain-dead from boredom/I’m led to distraction/Scratching the surface of life.”
Put all the words and music together and you see someone whose sense of self hinges almost entirely upon a woman’s love for him. Someone who can’t seem to maintain a healthy emotional equilibrium without her. Someone who seems unwilling to wait for complete commitment before surrendering his very soul to a relationship.
Elsewhere: “Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You” oozes a sinister vibe as a manipulative person (perhaps a religious or cult leader in the context of the song) threatens someone who departs: “It’s hard just to keep the faith/Do you need a reminder/Of the love we gave you?/ … You’re walking away/But we’ll always be watching you.”
“State of the Art” repeats the phrase “oh my god” twice.
“You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness,” Gotye tells us on “Somebody That I Used to Know.” That lyric encapsulates the emotional tenor of Making Mirrors.
Throughout this album, Gotye demonstrates a keen level of self-awareness, whether he’s vivisecting failed relationships or singing the praises of those that give him new hope. Either way, though, sadness (call it unhealthy emotional dependency if you will) always seems to lurk nearby.
These songs picture a man clinging tenaciously to moments of light and hope, but only in the presence of someone else. A man who does indeed seem addicted to that “certain kind of sadness.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.