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Everyone has their favorite European rock band whose songs don’t quite make sense. Usually, these groups hail from non-English-speaking lands, and frankly do pretty well writing lyrics in their second (or possibly third) language; if they keep it simple enough, you might not even notice anything’s off, but occasionally, when they try to get “deep,” it just sounds like they started to say something else and never finished the sentence. Prime examples of bands in this category include A-ha (sure, you can figure out what “Just to play my worries away” is supposed to mean, but it takes a minute), their fellow Swedes, Europe and Roxette, and the slightly less Nordic Scorpions. In recent years, Bjork has turned ESL into some kind of Icelandic code-talking. However, I have always considered Cutting Crew the champions of not-quite-English-language rocking – which is especially remarkable, considering they’re from England.
For most of you – yes, even you – Cutting Crew’s artistic output starts and ends with the sturm-und-drang of “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” which millions of snotty teens enjoyed mimicking in the summer of ’87: “I just dieeeed in your arms tonieeeeet…it mooost’ve been something you said…” For me, the excessive dipthongs just underscored the vulnerability of the vocal, the plaint of a man who has found himself enslaved by masochism and lust. Where did I fit into this paradigm? Was I the used? the user? the cat in the cradle? Huh? What’s a cat got to do with anything? I’m not sure, but “cradle” rhymes with “table” – uh, almost. Besides, there’s something thrilling about a single whose chorus is essentially a euphemism for “I just blew my load tonight!”
Cutting Crew managed to parlay their sole week at No. 1 in the U.S. into a string of lesser Top 40 hits, including “One for the Mockingbird” and “I’ve Been in Love Before,” which might be a finalist for the “Least Surprising Song in the Universe” contest. I’m still trying to follow the logic of the phrase “I’ve been in love before…the hardest part is when you’re in it”: You mean, the hardest part of being in love is…being in love? Shit, what’s the easy part? In spite of reaching No. 9 on the charts “I’ve Been in Love” was not my favorite CC slow jam; that was “Sahara,” which might be about a woman or a desert (in a blatant rip-off, conceptually if not musically, of Duran Duran’s “Rio,” itself something of a lyrical acid trip). Or maybe a camel. Just like “Died in Your Arms,” it uses the heart vs. head conundrum (“In my heart and in my head…I know that she’ll wait for me” – possibly because she’s tied to a hitching post) to underscore the complexities of modern romance. And modern English.