Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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10 Years, 100 Songs: #41. “Desperate for Changing, Starving for Truth…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 15, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

The reasons why most people reflexively dismiss Christian rock songs are obvious. Rock is primarily a secular enterprise–music is close enough to a religion in its own right that it feels almost overbearing to bring traditional faith and worship into the mix as well. What’s more, the majority of the genre tends to be kind of preachy, and for those of us who do not share the beliefs of these musicians or simply do not feel the need to express them so fervently, it can be fairly alienating to listen to. Put simply, no one wants to worry about going to hell while air-guitaring. Still, there are (or at least can be) general concepts and emotions at the core of religion-based rock–love, fear, hope, wonderment–that make them just as universal as songs about romance, partying, and cranking that Soulja Boy.

To my knowledge, Lifehouse is not traditionally viewed as a Christian rock band, and “Hanging By a Moment” is not traditionally viewed as a religious song. Indeed, it was many years that I was in love with “Moment” without even giving a second’s thought to what the deeper meaning of the song might be. Usually, when you find out a love song isn’t actually about romantic love, that means it’s really an ode to drugs or alcohol–which can either be cool and funny or horrifically disillusioning, depending on the song and the artist. But when you realize it might actually be about God, it can rock your entire view of the song, suddenly shutting you out completely just as you felt like it was really talking to you. Rare it was, then, that when I started to put two and two together for “Hanging By a Moment,” it actually deepened my appreciation for the song, making me realize just how unique and special it was in the scope of 00s pop.

Just in case you’re sitting there at home going “Wait, what? ‘Hanging By a Moment’ was the first dance at my wedding! How the hell is it about God??!?!”–well, for one, there’s the opening lines (“Desperate for changing, starving for truth”) which sound far more like a search for personal salvation than whining over not having a girlfriend. And in fact, personal surrender is the ongoing theme of the song–“I’ll take your invitation, you take all of me now,” “Letting go of all I’ve held onto,” “I don’t know what I’m diving into”–all much more telling of singer Jason Wade letting the lord Jesus Christ into his heart than of him getting laid on a Saturday night. It all seems to be just a little too strong to be a song about a mere relationship between mortals–or as Hope from Naperville, Illinois aptly puts it in the song’s otherwise unilluminating Songfacts page, “I’ve never been sure if this was about a person or God. I would hope God because otherwise it seems really intense.”

But hey, you don’t have to believe it. And if you don’t, I don’t think it really matters. Maybe “Hanging By a Moment” really would be a stronger song if it was about a personal relationship that was just that meaningful, to the point where it’s powerful enough that Wade needs to make a genuine leap of faith to allow himself to embrace it. I mean, that’s what romantics really want, right–a love so strong that it fundamentally changes who you are as a poerson? I could see Lionel Richie and Luther Vandross getting down with that, at the very least. And the song certainly does listeners the favor of giving them plausible deniability if the song being about God really would be a deal-breaker for them, never getting so obvious with it as to use deity-alluding pronouns or specifically worship-oriented terminology.

The point is that the song does such a brilliant job of articulating this mysterious, all-encompassing, frightening relationship that whether you think it’s about religious or sexual passion (or both, I suppose), it’s an extremely powerful song. For all the radio formats that Lifehouse crossed over to with “Hanging By a Moment,” they got branded with the MOR tag, but while later singles may have borne that out somewhat (namely 2005’s “You and Me,” a song custom-designed for awkward middle-school dances and emotionally pivotal moments in episodes of One Tree Hill), as far as “Moment” goes, I don’t think it could be much farther from the truth. The song is imbued with such heart, such a huge depth of feeling to it that to group it with the Three Doors Downs and Daughtrys of the world seems patently unfair to me. Regardless of the kind of love it’s addressing, it addressed it in a way with more palpable shock and awe than maybe any love song since Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

And it’s a damn well written one, as well. It probably seems like it’s going to be a drag from the first verse, which starts off slow and portentous with no rhythm section and a heavy cello part, but the chorus erases doubt of that as soon as that first “I’m falling even more in love with you” line hits–an attention-grabber that sets the song on the right path. The entire chorus is a stunner, one with an immaculate grasp of meter, rhythm and melody, and one which of course hinges on that fantastic titular line–“Just hanging by a moment here with you”–which encapsulates all the fear, amazement and urgency of the entire song. It sounds great too, especially from the second chorus on, where that shiny, somehow cleanly-distorted guitar part comes in to give the song the musical energy to match the fervor of the lyrics. The key, though, once more, can be found in the bass line, and more specifically, just one note–that low, minor note that comes in half-way through the chorus and catches you off-guard with how out of place it sounds, giving “Moment” that appropriate touch of the strange and unexpected.If you know and love “Moment” already you should know immediately what I’m talking about, if not, listen for it the next time you hear it–the song’s just not the same without it.

But besides those minor musical touches, when you really get down to it, the appeal of “Hanging By a Moment”–the reason it was so enormously successful, a #2 hit and the most radio-played single of 2001–was its sheer righteousness. There weren’t many true believers to be found in the Naughty Oughties, but Lifehouse here were unquestionably one of them, a band so overtaken with feeling and inspiration that they sang and performed without any sort of sarcasm or reservation. This was a love song in its purest form, one where, as Jason Wade puts it on the song’s bridge, there is nothing else. In a decade where rock music in nearly all of its most popular forms would come to be dominated by self-pity, bitterness and general emotional narcissism, one where in the end, it never really mattered, listening to a song that has as much faith as “Hanging By a Moment”–whatever it is that faith is in–is still a remarkably refreshing, and somewhat intoxicating, experience.

Despite a four-year gap between hits where it seemed like Lifehouse were destined for one-hit-wonder status (which I personally would have been more than OK with), Lifehouse experienced a career rebound in 2005 with the previous mentioned “You and Me.” Then they seemed destined for two-hit-wonder status (which I also would’ve been pretty OK with), but a couple years later, they were back with “First Time,” a song which overlapped many of the same themes as “Moment,” with predictably less powerful results. Now they seem to have settled into that VH1 / CW groove, and they could be putt-putting away at this level for the next decade for all I know. But it’s fairly unlikely that they’ll ever reach the heights of “Hanging By a Moment” again–one of the most transcendent singles of the decade, and one that proved that divine intervention was still as great an inspirational force in rock and pop music as anything. Or not.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment”

4 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #41. “Desperate for Changing, Starving for Truth…””

  1. billy said

    R.I.P. Intensities in the Suburbs, 2007-2009

  2. MBI said

    You know, I don’t particularly like this song, but I can get behind an ’00s list that includes it. Lifehouse topped this one easily with “Spin,” though.

  3. Brent said

    I always thought that “Sick Cycle Carousel” was quite under rated as well. Not quite as good as “Spin” but better than “Moment” at least.

  4. Byron said

    I think “First Time” may actually have been a purer distillation of the emotions present in “Hanging by a Moment”, but it couldn’t help but be less powerful coming from them once they’d already had two tastes of commercial success and lost the charm of uncertainty that made “Hanging by a Moment” so much more rewarding. Thirding the disappointment at “Spin” not doing well, though I’d have to revisit it to know how I rate the song now.

    As with practically everything so far, wonderful work, Andrew; you’ve managed to capture so much of the nostalgia I’m going to carry away from this decade, and it’s really heartwarming just to see someone doing it (honorable mention to Brent, who’s covered some great material as well as CanCon that you couldn’t be expected to know). This being said, I’m ashamed to say I never noticed that bass note.

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