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100 Years, 100 Songs: #95. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 4, 2007

“He says all the right things / At exactly the right time”

Generally, when it comes to all-time favorites, my opinions are fairly ordinary. Often I’ll play up certain obvious differences of opinion I have with the critical majority–every critic does, to a certain extent–but in general, more often than not, my opinions fall in line. Everyone might not agree with my exact rankings on this list, and some will disagree vehemently with certain inclusions or exclusions, but as will become abundantly clear the closer this list gets to the top, I generally like most of the same songs as everyone else.

Except for “Everything You Want.” I’ve mentioned my love of this song to the great majority of people I know whose taste I usually have at least a few things in common with–high school friends, college friends, quiz bowl teammates, Stylus co-writers, internet acquaintances, and almost everyone else I’ve ever had a number of music-related conversations with–no one else likes this song. It’s unbelievable, as I know plenty of people who will defend the cheesiest, most critically drubbed of pop songs, but none of them will go to bat for Vertical Horizon. A couple of them quickly started to even use it as a one-line sealer of all musical arguments against me, like:

Me: How can you possibly like that annoying new Shakira song? Her voice makes me want to stab myself.
Them: Oh, well I know it can’t possibly compare to Vertical Horizon, but I still think it’s pretty good. [argument over]

or

Me: How could you possibly think that Terror Twilight is a better album than Slanted & Enchanted? There are only like four good songs on Terorr Twilight, the rest feels totally soulless and boring. It’s just a depressingly mediocre send-off album that proves how fractured and tired the band was at the time, it’s got half the tunes and none of the importance of S&E.

Them: You like Vertical Horizon. [argument over]

I don’t get it. I loved this song when it was out–one of the last radio hits I can remember feeling genuine affection for before I decided that modern popular music was Bad and I went into pop cultural hibernation for three or four years–and it still sounds just as good now. In my mind it’s still inextricably tied with Lifehouse’s “Hanging By a Moment,” another much-hated MOR-ish song from around the same time which I think also ranks as one of the best pop/rock songs of the decade, but even with that, I think I’ve found one or two fellow supporters. In this one, I stand alone.

Vertical Horizon understand how to write a pop song. The first-verse build up of “Everything You Want” still stuns me, starting off with that unforgettable chopped reverb hook, then slowly adding the main guitar line, the vocals, bass and drums, until just about the time the chorus is ready to kick the song into overdrive. It’s a remarkably sad, reflective sound for such a huge hit song–you can feel how much the song aches way before the lyrics come in, with the moaning, dejected reverb line, making clear that this is not going to be a particularly bright song. As with most truly great pop singles, the verses are largely unintelligible and fairly unintelligent (“But under skinned knees and the skid marks / past the places where you used to learn”) but they still sound good in their meaninglessness, and they set the tone beautifully for the chorus.

And I don’t know if there’s been a better chorus written since the turn of the millenium. It instantly renders the rest of the lyrics meaningless and makes it immediately clear that the rest of the song, great though it was, was just meant to provide a platform for the chorus: “He’s everything you want / he’s everything you need / he’s everything inside of you that you wish you could be / He says all the right things / at exactly the right time / but he means nothing to you and you don’t know why”

If I could properly explain why I found this chorus so affecting and brilliant, maybe I could do a better job of persuading people I know to give it another chance. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever done it justice, but I’ll do the best I can. A large part of it is the way the words are structured–the way both halves of the chorus are split into three like segments, each escalating up to the longest and most powerful segment of the three, creating an extremely tense set of drama, climaxing in the denouement of the last part. Part of it is the words chosen–the repetition of “everything” and “all” in every segment except the last, which undercuts it with “nothing,” and the ambiguity of the constant second-person (“you”) references, causing the listener to wonder who he’s talking to and why he’s saying this, since it really isn’t clear yet in the song, as well as reminding them of times in their life they might have thought or wanted to say something similar. Really, though, the thing that seals it for me is VH singer Matt Scannel’s caustic emphasis on the key words of the chorus–“he’s everything you want, he’s everything you need,” “he says all the right things at exactly the right time“–giving the chorus a bitter, resentful feel whose meaning is once again not clear yet, but will become clear later.

The use of the lyrical transformation is decidedly sparse in pop music, probably because it’s hard to pull off without sounding stupid, but when it lands correctly, it change your whole take on a song. The most well-known example of this phenomenon at work that I can think of off the top of my head is the bookending lyrics to Wilco’s “She’s a Jar“–how “she begs me not to miss her” from the first verse turns into “she begs me not to hit her” in the song’s closing lines. It’s a subtle transformation, and one which a lot of people might not even have noticed their first time through the song, but one which adds new levels of meaning (and creepiness) to the song, especially the next time you listen to it.

The transformation in “Everything You Want” is a lot less subtle and a lot more predictable, but probably a lot more effective. In the song’s final chorus, “he’s everything you want” suddenly switches to “I am everything you want,” as Scannell’s vocal raises an octave and what was previously a passive lament quickly becomes an urgent shout. Everyone listening to the song up until that point had to know that Scannell was somehow singing about himself, but that doesn’t make his fevered admittance of the first-person perspective any less jarring once it finally pops up. And the song’s final line, now finally stated truthfully, “but I mean nothing to you and I don’t know…why….”–how could anyone not find that completely devestating?

I gotta believe that part of it has to do with timing. Songs super-popular at the turn of a decade often get left in cultural limbo as a result of not really being part of either decade’s musical identity, and “Everything You Want” was popular right at the turn of the millenium, a period populated with some of the most random and quickly forgotten megahits in pop history (look at Wikipedia’s list of #1 singles from 2000 for proof). And part of it’s probably partly personal myself–I was soon to enter an “Everything You Want”-type crush myself when the song was popular, and though I don’t remember the song still being popular at the time, it probably stuck in my head a little bit.

But still, all timing issues aside, I don’t buy for a second that this song isn’t worth revisiting, and that I’m really the only one out there who feels this way about it. Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.

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15 Responses to “100 Years, 100 Songs: #95. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want””

  1. I can’t – I’d even agree on the Lifehouse song (not as good as “Spin”), but I hate this one. And it’s 100% that lyrical shift you talk about (I don’t like “She’s a Jar” either). If he stuck to the third person, maybe injected some compassion into his voice I could go to bat for this. As it is, it’s (sorry) complete self-pitying bullshit – I’ve had my share of crushes like this too, so I’m not trying to mean to you personally when I say that all guys who think they are “everything you want, everything you need” are almost always dead wrong.

  2. Andrew Unterberger said

    but that’s the point, isn’t it? It’s all about the ridiculous self-delusion people feel when their crush is off with some other guy, how they convince themselves that every way in which the other guy’s wrong for them is every way in which they would be perfect. How do you write a song about being in love with someone who doesn’t love you without it being self-pitying bullshit? What would be the purpose?

  3. Sonja said

    I LIKE THIS SONG TOO

    I think I would have realized this all sooner had I known that the band was called Vertical Horizon.

  4. “How do you write a song about being in love with someone who doesn’t love you without it being self-pitying bullshit?”

    Something like this.

  5. Andrew Unterberger said

    haha, I knew you were gonna hit me back with that.

    But really, how is that any less self-pitying? I mean, yeah, maybe she does a better job of putting on a brave face or whatever, but she still wants you do feel really, really bad for her.

  6. Ian said

    True story: my friend was at Arch’s in Charlottesville one day in the summer of 2000. Arch’s is the frozen yogurt place where all the foxy sorority girls go. I was working at Ben & Jerry’s, which only served to fat kids and couples. Anyways, my friend tells me that the bassist from Vertical Horizon is all up in Arch’s hitting on girls, name-dropping his band at any given chance. For whatever reason, absolutely no one knew who this band was, despite “Everything You Want.” Dude was absolutely fuming and he stormed out of the place. The end.

  7. Andrew Unterberger said

    sorry man, that just makes the band way more relatable in my mind.

  8. […] Still, I’ve been very pleased to see the growing number of internet writers starting to stick up for LP a little bit. They’ve rightly come around to the awesomeness of the intro to “Faint,” the “SHUT UP WHEN I’M TALKIN’ TO YOU!!!” climax to “One Step Closer,” the Holly Brook-sung hook to Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go” (well, not that last one). Stylus writer Jeff Weiss even echoed many of my opinions on the band in a phenomenal piece on Hybrid Theory recently that partly confirmed my suspicions that in time, unlike say, Vertical Horizon, critics will eventually come around to Linkin Park (though sorry, Jeff, the only LP, uh, LP that I’ve heard all the way through is Jay-Z mashup album Collision Course). It’s just a matter of time. […]

  9. […] Crows – Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings An IITS reader once said of my tribute to Vertical Horizon’s “Everything You Want,” “No offense, but it’s really funny if you read it as satire.” I’m not going […]

  10. marc h. said

    “Everything She Wants” >>>>> “Hanging on a Moment”

    although the latter can be funny if you sing along with it as parody. : )

    i’d like to hear more about the “chopped reverb hook”! how exactly did they do that, anyway? turned them from a little folk-pop group to mega-sellers, basically, i think even more than the increased generality of their lyrics. all my (considerable!) doubts about the song’s artistic merits aside, it was a surefire hit from first listen. anybody who didn’t recognize that was clueless. glad to see someone saying something interesting about it.

    best!
    marc

  11. marc h. said

    er, “Hanging BY a Moment”

  12. Jarrod said

    Hey…I just stumbled across this, but wanted to let you know there was someone else out there in musicgeekfandom that absolutely loves Vertical Horizon (and this song) for being blatantly pop-oriented, aimed at sales and charts, and still managing to play soulfully and write meaningful, relevant lyrics.

    Thanks for this..people need to get over themselves, and just embrace quality wherever they find it, no matter the packaging.

  13. Christian said

    Count me in on the Everything You Want fan club. Always loved it for the reasons explained. A staple of my ipod shuffle and is sure to remain so. Whenever it pops up, I am more than happy to sing aloud with my terrible voice in the car. Love the chorus, enjoy the story being told, and embrace its dismissal by the masses.

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