“Affirmation” — Savage Garden

At the start of every year, plenty of people cast around for ways to make the new year better for them than the year that’s just ended.

Sooner or later, they’ll stumble across a personal development website or two and end up reading about the power of affirmations.

Now, before you think I’ve gone all New Age, my feelings on whether that sort of thing makes much difference are a little mixed. But as I was skimming the umpteenth tweet about the power of affirmations over the New Year period, I couldn’t help thinking about Savage Garden’s UK Top 10 hit from 2000 called…believe it or not… “Affirmation”.

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this song.

I like the way the calm and measured lyrics are laid on top of a blistering drum track. While Darren Hayes is singing in a reasonably contemplative style, someone in the background is drumming away like Animal from The Muppets after three or four ill-advised double espressos on their way into the recording studio.

A great drum track is an often-underestimated part of a great song, so I always like to listen out for those. But on “Affirmation”, it’s the juxtaposition between the frenetic drum track and the contemplative vocal that makes the song such a treat.

The other element I really love about “Affirmation” is its very tight lyrical structure.

You probably know by now that, whilst I like any well-expressed song lyrics, I especially adore lyrics written to a tight structure. That’s the hardest thing there is to do in lyric writing, so I’m always impressed when I come across a great example of that particular skill.

A tight structure makes lyric writing hard because, at the same time, you’re giving away so much of the lyric writing real estate you’ve need to get your story across and you’re also making it progressively harder to find words, rhymes and rhythms to fit the structure you thought was a really neat idea two-and-a-half verses previously.

Duo Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones, who comprised Savage Garden, wrote “Affirmation” as a series of statements. Every line of the lyrics starts with “I believe” followed by a point of view they subscribe to.

These include some crackers like…

I believe that beauty magazines promote low self-esteem

and…

I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do

not to mention…

I believe that God does not endorse TV evangelists

You don’t necessarily need to agree with all their statements to be impressed by the way Savage Garden keep the rhyme and the meter going right through a set of lyrics that already has quite a lot of words to fit into a three-minute pop song. No wonder that drummer has to crack on…

They don’t even get the luxury of an extended guitar solo, or a few bars where they mumble “hmmm, hmmm, hmmm” or any of the other tricks that are used to pad out a pop song that’s not quite close enough to the three-minute mark by the time they’ve finished recording the vocal in the studio.

So, as well as the fact that Darren Hayes and Daniel Jones wrote a really catchy tune for “Affirmation”, I can’t fail to be impressed by the way they constructed their lyrics around what looks like a very simple structure, but one which is incredibly difficult to execute well in practice.

Whether or not you believe in New Age stuff like karma and affirmations, hopefully you’ll appreciate the sentiment in these lyrics…

I believe in karma what you give is what you get returned
I believe you can’t appreciate real love until you’ve been burned
I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side
I believe you don’t know what you’ve got until you say goodbye

Whilst I really like the lyrics of “Affirmation”, and the sentiment behind them, I’m less sure about concepts like karma outside the slightly artificial environment of a pop song or a rom-com starring Jennifer Aniston.

It’s certainly been my experience that if you give someone love, friendship or assistance, you’d better get out the way quickly in case they trample you underfoot in their rush to stampede their way out of your life.

When the going gets tough, with rare and noble exceptions, you quickly find out that the people you’d thought you’d be able to rely on are nowhere to be seen. But, ironically, the kindness you get from near-complete strangers gives you the strength to keep on going.

Which makes me wonder…perhaps this karma thing works a lot more subtly than popular mythology, and a bunch of unnaturally-tanned guys with products to sell around the start of each new year would have you believe.

Maybe…just maybe…there’s something in it after all…

But whether or not you believe in karma, I hope we can all agree that “Affirmation” by Savage Garden is a great song, with a great tune and really well-written lyrics…not to forget the frenetic drum track. Put all that together and this is a really great song.

For reasons that escape me, the audio on the official video is curiously insipid. If you want to see the guys in action, you can do that here (but don’t judge this great song by the sound quality on the official music video)… https://youtu.be/RFzZ-xpyfoo

However if you just want to hear what a great song “Affirmation” is, I’d recommend you try the lyric video I’ve linked to below. Get some headphones on and listen out for those blistering drums….

But more importantly, take the time to appreciate this great example of how to write a brilliant set of lyrics, despite forcing yourself to grapple with your self-imposed decision to follow an almost impossibly tight lyrical structure. Something more free-flowing, and probably much easier to write, wouldn’t have been half as good.

With their UK Top 10 from 2000, here’s Australian duo Savage Garden with “Affirmation”…

The video is below, but if you prefer to listen to this track on Spotify, you can find it here… https://open.spotify.com/track/6CrMkIDzivEQ6N2yxe8ABn

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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