At this time of year, I always feel hungover.
I feel HERT: Heavy, emotional, regretful, tired.
Throughout October, I like to listen to dark, macabre, spooky and fun music. Throughout December, I listen religiously to Christmas music.
In the gap between these two periods, I’m drawn to music that matches the weightiness of the season.
There’s no simple way to describe this music. It’s laddish yet sensitive post-Britpop indie rock defined by its plaintive vocals and “anthemic” choruses, performed by earnest young British or Irish men with nice shirts and mid-length hair. The cool kids, who are wrong about everything, used to call it “bedwetter music”. This is only because they’re terrified of their feelings. I have a better term: Music for a cry and a pint.
Context is everything. When I say “a cry and a pint”, please don’t picture anything solitary – a drink nursed over the course of an hour by a sad individual in the corner of a pub. No, I want you to picture something that’s almost the opposite: A pint held aloft, one of many thousands held aloft in the same room or field. Holding the pint aloft, a noble individual, basking in the raw emotion of the music, elated by the sense of community, feeling like a part of something bigger than themselves yet, at the same time, feeling at one with their feelings. And for this individual, to feel at one with their feelings is a rare feeling indeed.
Music for a cry and a pint is music that’s designed to be bellowed along to by crowds who want something emotional yet comforting. This is music to be sung in the summer by sozzled and sunburned festival crowds. But it’s perfect for this time of year too, when the days are short and cold and things are getting critical.
Let’s explore some of the best music for a cry and a pint, together. For each song, I’m going to highlight the Bit to Bellow Along To With a Pint (BTBATWAP). And to best evoke the unselfconscious abandon that surges through normally-reserved crowds when the beer flows and the song reaches its peak, I’ll be writing these sections ENTIRELY IN CAPITALS.
It’s usually the chorus. It’s always the chorus.
But these songs are by no means the finest songs by each respective band. So in each case, I’ll also highlight another song from the same band, from the same album – one that offers slightly subtler catharsis. Perhaps one for that solitary pint and cry. One to take home with you, then, to treasure when the roar of the crowd has faded to a painful, distant memory.
UPDATE: I have now created a 50-song playlist for a cry and a pint:
Manic Street Preachers – A Design for Life
This song predates the others on this list, and Manic Street Preachers fans might wish to correct me for daring to place their band in such company. But I’m looking for music that acts as an outlet for people who don’t usually give vent to their emotions. And this song appears to be about just that. That noble chorus – defiantly stoic – is sung in the first person plural tense, and it sounds huge. It’s like they knew they’d be giving a voice to thousands every time the song plays. This song is usually the last song of the night at their shows, so it always hits when the crowd will be at their most awestruck and inebriated. King move.
BTBATWAP: WE DON’T TALK ABOUT LIFE! WE ONLY WANT TO GET DRUNK! It’s true, we do. It’s perhaps not the healthiest coping mechanism. But it’s a coping mechanism, nonetheless.
One To Take Home: Everything Must Go has that magnificent wall of sound production, strings that evoke a palatial interdimensional stream train terminal in the middle of a frozen city, and this poleaxing line: I look to the future it makes me cry / But it seems too real to tell you why. Yep. We’re very lucky to have this band.
Travis – Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Oh, this one has it all. A rollicking pace you can nod along to, or bounce along to, depending on how far gone you are. A heartbroken whispered verse and a desperate top-of-the-voice chorus that the band’s just begging to be shouted back at them. Lyrics that might mean nothing, or everything. A melody so simple that you’d be able to sing along by the second chorus, even if you were hearing the song for the very first time. It casts a gentle glow, acting as a cold pint by a warm fire in the middle of a sad and sodden world. Fran Healy claims that the song’s not about misery or self-pity – it really is just about rain. Nonetheless, this is a rush, and a release. The Smack The Pony version’s good too.
BTBATWAP: WHY DOES IT ALWAYS RAIN ON ME! IS IT BECAUSE I LIED WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN? I believe Mr. Healy’s yet to reveal what lie he told aged 17, or what it has to do with the rest of the song. Probably nothing. I suspect he just wrote that line because it scanned and rhymed.
One to Take Home: Luv. For over a decade, I disliked this song. It was a low-point on an otherwise totally compelling album. It’s that harmonica. It always brought to mind a sorrowful old dog, mourning for his departed master. It only clicked when I saw Fran Healy play it live. He introduced the song with a story: Backstage at a late 90s music festival, Liam Gallagher demanded Fran sing for him. This is the song he played and, apparently, Liam was openly crying by the time he finished. I’m not too keen on Oasis, but I wouldn’t turn down a cry and a pint with Liam Gallagher.
Coldplay – The Scientist
Baton passed: Coldplay wanted to be the next Travis – Chris Martin once described himself as “the poor man’s Fran Healy”. They did it. They became the next Travis, and suddenly all purveyors of this cry & pint music aimed to be the next Coldplay. This is it, lads. The quintessential song for a cry and a pint. Indeed, Coldplay have two such showstoppers for teary pints in their arsenal. But out of The Scientist and Fix You, I much prefer The Scientist. Fix You is a tad overplayed, it’s build-up and release a little too on the nose. The Scientist, though, is much more refined – a sustained mood of melancholy and yearning. The only release you’re getting is via that cool chugging guitar and the addition of some stately drums to the sleepy verses. It’s enough, though, to inspire raised pints in their millions.
BTBATWAP: NOBODY SAID IT WAS EASY. It’s funny. I’ve seen Coldplay at least half a dozen times. Every single time The Scientist has taken me by surprise, like I wasn’t expecting them to play it. It’s almost as though I forget the song exists. So when those teary piano chords play, and the crowd roars with fraught joy, it’s like bumping into a dear old friend again, and it’s his round.
One to Take Home: Oh my gods, Amsterdam. My brother despises Coldplay. But even he likes Amsterdam. It’s a flickering candle for your darkest nights, when nobody’s around and it feels like you’ll never feel safe, warm or happy again. But then the band kicks in, dispelling the heartbreak conjured by the song’s hushed beginnings, and the sorrow scatters like cockroaches in the light. Stood on the edge / Tied to a noose / And you came along / And you cut me loose. Yes, Chris. Yes.
Snow Patrol – Run
Some songs just sound important. When you hear that opening guitar, you just know that things are going to get real. And those first lines! I’ll sing it one last time for you / Then we really have to go / You’ve been the only thing that’s right / In all I’ve done. Gary Lightbody sounds uncharacteristically husky here, as if he’s just spent hours talking and shouting, and singing this truly is the last thing he intends to do.
BTBATWAP: LIGHT UP, LIGHT UP, AS IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE! The chorus is like a beacon in the darkness, though even then our heroes feel like they’re resigned to a life of heartbreak and chemical dependency.
One to Take Home: The best Snow Patrol songs are their chugging crunchy rockers, and the aptly-named Wow is their finest chugging crunchy rocker. It’s as cosy and warming and it’s possible for an up-tempo rock song to be. Often, when I need to hear some music, this is exactly the sort of thing I need to hear. With the Sun on your face, all these worries will soon disappear! He’s right. I can’t understand why they haven’t played this live since 2007. It’s a masterpiece.
Embrace – Gravity
Everything’s connected. Coldplay became friends with Embrace after supporting them on tour. Coldplay wrote a song and decided that it sounded exactly like Embrace. So they gave it to Embrace, and it reignited their career. So we have Embrace effectively acting as their own tribute band, playing a song written by a band for whom they paved the way. A feedback loop of tender laddish sensitivity. It’s not so much music for a cry and a pint as it is a pint of tears, or a stream of lager running down your face.
BTBATWAP: AND THEN I LOOKED UP AT THE SUN AND I COULD SEE. This one’s so potent it soundtracked a particularly tearjerking scene in Gavin & Stacey. It’s just another layer to that feedback loop of tender laddish sensitivity.
One to Take Home: This is a prime song for a cry and a pint, in that the band that produced it has nothing comparable in their discography. Don’t get me wrong. Embrace have many, many, many wonderful songs. But when it comes to songs that force you to take a deep breath before gulping your Carling to hide your tears, nothing compares to Gravity.
Athlete – Wires
Joel Pott’s newborn daughter had some health problems shortly after birth, and those first few weeks of her life were tense, fraught, and unbearable. This is a song about that period, and it’s a real “three tissues” sort of song. The strings always remind me of the incidental music from a hospital drama, and the imagery – wires going in and coming out of your skin – is particularly hideous when you consider he’s singing about an infant. The story has a happy ending. He shifts to his usual chirpy major key for the final chorus, and ends by saying looking at you now, you would never know. This doesn’t make the journey any less draining, yet the heaviness makes that pay-off all the more uplifting. This is a rare example of a cry and a pint song that deals with raw emotions – seldom is the subject matter of this sort of music this stark, this real. You’re going to need a bigger pint.
BTBATWAP: RUNNING DOWN CORRIDORS, THROUGH AUTOMATIC DOORS. We actually have video footage of a crowd enjoying a cry and a pint to this song, at Glastonbury! Look at this, and wish you were there. Imagine watching Athlete on a major stage at Glastonbury with a hungry, enthusiastic crowd. Often, with this sort of music, the pain isn’t in the music itself, but in the baggage. Was life ever this good?
One to Take Home: It’s a tricky one. Because like with Embrace’s Gravity, nothing on Athlete’s Tourist album holds a candle to Wires. But still, Chances! It’s a song so emotionally overwhelming that Doctor Who used it to soundtrack Vincent Van Gogh feeling emotionally overwhelmed. And Vincent Van Gogh was a pretty emotional guy! I’m not even going to hint that all he needed was a cry and a pint. But you might, having watched this. Unappreciated in his own time, The Doctor takes Vincent to a contemporary art gallery, so he can see his legacy and hear a glowing eulogy delivered by Bill Nighy. Noticing Vincent’s tears, The Doctor asks, “I’m sorry, is it too much?” Yes, Doctor, it is. That’s why we need music like this.
What Happened to Music Like This?
Nothing ever lasts forever. If a certain style of music is popular today, you can rest assured that it won’t be so popular five years from now. This music for a cry and a pint was displaced by music for a pint and a fight, or music for a pint and a dance. It’s fine. It happens. Things change. People move on.
And unfortunately, the mantle of tender laddish sensitivity has been taken up by certain cocky and charmless solo artists: E* Sh**ran and G**rge *E**ra, to partially name a couple.
Indeed, while writing this piece I was mortified to find that Joel Pott, the lad from Athlete, has a writing credit on Ezra’s execrable Shotgun. I don’t begrudge Joel his post-Athlete success, and I’m pleased he’s still able to make a living doing what he loves. And judging by that song’s terrible ubiquity, it must be quite a comfortable living. But still. How can someone responsible for such poetry produce something so evil and inane?
I can’t listen to Ezra and Sheeran et al. And yet, this remains the sort of music that moves me and excites me. To this day I find myself scanning festival lineups for music I can enjoy with a pint while shedding some manful tears. This music is intimate yet massive. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger. And we all need to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.
Soon, lads. Soon. First one’s on me.