The more I listen to this group of songs, the more I like it. Here are some thoughts of mine on each track:
Ambien - ★★★★☆
This song at surface level is absolutely one of the most ‘blah’ of the bunch, and on first listen Jason completely confused me by making this the intro track. On a deeper listen though, I think he actually displays a great deal of writing and compositional control with this. The song has very little in the way of dynamics – if you looked at an EQ of the song it would probably look like a rectangle, with a very repetitive, monotonous and repetitive rhythm guitar line and basically no discernible lead guitar. The drums are on a loop that doesn’t change through the chorus, and all of this is to say it really leaves his relatively monotone vocals to do the heavy lifting of bringing meaning to all of this sameness. And he absolutely does. This song to me, musically and lyrically, is about being stuck in repetition, dwelling in the same thoughts of the same people that you can’t control, unable to escape it because of how emotionally draining it is and yet being drained more and more. Think Groundhog Day, but less angry and more just ‘done’. Man oh man, when that second chorus hits and he goes high instead of staying low like the first chorus… I find it unbelievable how he conveys intensity and banality in a single action of raising his voice to the edge of his vocal range.
Thanks for the info on the insomnia drug – I never looked it up, that’s really cool. Love it when songs are named for something outside of themselves:)
What You’re Looking For - ★★★★★
The first time I heard the first line of this track I knew I was in for a treat. I get strong Goodbye vibes with this, and I love when Jason gets a bit ‘sinister’ with his singing. It feels like a taunt, like he’s been hurt by someone but is bigger and stronger, leaving them to squander in their issues that he has no time for. Strength is a theme of this track for me – learning when to stop giving a toxic person the benefit of the doubt – and I think the mood of the music matches the lyrics to a tee. Never noticed it until writing this, but interesting how he interpolates Wish in the second chorus: “I wish the best for you”. And just to make the song more two-dimensional, he slips a bit, from being in full emotional control of this goodbye speech he’s giving to showing his vulnerability with one single little line at the end of the later choruses: I wish we never went through this.
This song probably didn’t make the yellow album because Better Luck Next Time did. That album always felt like the most ‘wise’ Lifehouse record to me, someone writing about their troubles with the perspective of age and experience years after those troubles occurred. Perhaps WYLF was too in-the-moment for John Alagia, but I’m so glad Jason found a home for it here.
Fool Who Sticks Around - ★★☆☆☆
I like the impetus for the lyrics of the song – the whole track sounds emotionally raw but clunky, so I find it hard to get enveloped in it, however I think the highlight is the title lyric: “I’m a fool who sticks around to keep alive what was always dead”. I get a lot of SC-era vibes in the bridge, and figure this was probably written in 2002 rather than 2004.
Never Going Back - ★★★☆☆
The mood of this song is just despair. Lyrically the thing that happened ‘back there’ is clearly over and he’s safe, but the wound is still fresh. I think the track meanders a bit and feels unfinished in the same vein as the last song, but that does give it an eerie quality that I like on occasion. I also think this is one of the Twisted Lullaby Project tracks that Jason mentioned when he released Shiny Silver Beast in 2017. He literally sings “these twisted lullabies, they haunt my dreams”, and it has this creepy but also lulling vibe that sounds like it’d fit right in with SSB.
Read Between the Lines - ★★★★☆
The first time I heard this record, I remember being hyped for the first two songs and it kinda dwindled for the second two, but I clearly remember hearing the “two, three, fourrrrr” and being instantly hooked. Then there Jason’s amazing bass line (I can’t believe he could play bass so well), the creepy duck quack sound at 0:09, and the general eerie feeling of either a) meeting all the toys at Syd’s house in Toy Story or b) walking through a forest path that I know well, but at night and in the fog. The opening line “maybe all I need is a day in the sun” is one of my all-time favourites of his writing, and in seasons of depression I often think about how much it sounds like he’s mocking himself and those who don’t take him seriously. While some parts kinda drag on here and there and the direction gets weaker as the song progresses past those dynamite first few bars, it’s still one of the ones that gets stuck in my head the most.
So Much to Lose - ★★★★★
An even better intro than the last one!! I agree completely, Shawn, that this is probably the best song on the record (though not my favourite). It’s a Twisted Lullabies track for sure. Short and sweet, says what it needs to and gets out. The key progression and chord structure feels an awful lot like Along the Way, so I feel like he may have borrowed it when he wrote that song. We even get a nice little solo in the bridge too. I don’t have too much to say about the lyrics, other than that he’s in his typical reflective state that we all know and probably love.
All the Same - ★★★☆☆
The most sarcastic and ‘mocking’ song of the lot in my mind, this also has strong Goodbye vibes but trades creepiness for suppressed anger. From that beat that makes my head spin to the long drawn out notes and flat guitar playing, he sounds a bit scattered, a bit at wits end, but his anger is definitely brewing throughout and ready to bubble over at any point. I can’t think of too many moments that I’ve heard Jason this upset – Better Luck Next Time, Bridges, perhaps Nerve Damage? I don’t enjoy listening to it much because it’s just not very pleasant to my ears, but it’s one of the best expressions of an emotion here so I have a lot of respect for this song.
The Place That I Fit In - ★★★★★
Ah, Lifehouse fans breathe a sigh of relief. This is my highlight of the Demos 1 group, and the song that feels like it came closest to being on the yellow record. Everything about it is classic early Lifehouse – coming from a place of darkness, but extending the listener a hand and providing an air of hope. He uses the typical lyric structure of DLD and No Name Face, with the verses containing the ‘warning’ or the ‘problem’, and the chorus pulling the listener in to hear the protagonist’s soul searching and what came out of it. Unknown, Crown of Scars, Trying, Storm, Breathing, Only One, Simon, Quasimodo, and Take Me Away all follow this formula, and I guess I sort of consider it the calling card of a good Lifehouse song. It also makes me smile to hear how many little parts of this track did actually make their way into the yellow record – the keyboard feels quite similar to Chapter One but moved down a few octaves, and the electric guitar at the end is closely related to that of Walking Away. For all the coldness of this group of songs (which I do find makes them hard to listen to as a set), this song is the sonic equivalent of a warm hug, as much as anything Jason has ever written. I also appreciate its length; at 4:50, it’s one of the longest tracks of that era, and he’s not afraid to give it the breathing room it deserves, repeating the entire first verse and chorus during the song’s final reprise. While not based on the acoustic guitar, I think this track fits with Better Part of Me, Along the Way, Midnight in Philadelphia, and several of the warmer b-sides of that era that have been my favourites for over a decade.
Sleeping with the Lights On - ★★★★☆
Another keyboard song that you’re right Shawn, somehow feels reminiscent of later material on Who We Are. I again get Chapter One vibes in the amount of sonic space around the keys, and don’t mind the effects either – I can’t really imagine what the song would be like without them. Jason’s on top of his vocal game here, and isn’t it interesting that the second song directly about insomnia is also relatively unwavering from the structure set out in the first few bars (just like Ambien). You never really know when it’s going to end, and the monotonous quality to every part of it feels so much like staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, half awake. In terms of achieving the goal of the song, I think he nailed it. I get strong Virginia In the Rain Dave Matthews Band vibes as well.
Remember Me - ★★★★☆
This came out of nowhere and feels so drastically different than the rest of the album, but is so so good. I feel like ultimately it turned into Øz’s track Always Be In Mind off of Sweet Delirium. The melodies are almost identical and they have similar subject matter. There’s an uneasiness to putting this song last, a sense that the outcome of our protagonist’s story was unsatisfactory. Ending in yearning doesn’t fit with Lifehouse’s unyielding hope, but certainly fits with Øzwald’s darker side. I’m honestly pretty shocked that this song was written in the early 2000s, being such a drastic outlier to his entire catalogue up to and past that point. Perhaps it was also a Twisted Lullabies song? It makes me wonder how many of those tunes are still out there. Either way, too many feels and too sad to go last for casual listening, but as a work of art it’s a reminder of Jason’s breadth as a writer even at this point.
Over all, this group of songs is what I’d consider the darkest Jason has written. Lifehouse is about hope, and there’s little of it in these songs, so my suspicion is that as he began to write some more optimistic tracks during this time (Butterfly, Along the Way, the songs that made it onto the yellow album) these were either forgotten, or rejected by John Alagia when Jason brought him his 40+ song options that made the final Lifehouse album.
On that note, I think it’d be interesting to split these songs into groups, since they were written over several years. My guess would be as follows (with others added):
Twisted Lullabies songs: Never Going Back, So Much to Lose, Remember Me, Shiny Silver Beast (written in 2001 but still be part of TL), potentially Goodbye, potentially Penelopieces (if it was written at this time, and being produced by Ean I believe that it was), and maybe, just maaaaaybe, Wish as well
Angry songs: Fool Who Sticks Around, What You’re Looking For, Read Between the Lines, All the Same, Chapter Two, Better Luck Next Time
‘Directionless’ songs: Ambien, Sleeping With the Lights On, Through These Times, Running Away
Getting back to Lifehouse: The Place That I Fit In
Would love to hear your and everyone’s thoughts on these thoughts! This is such a monumental era for the band and Jason’s music, and I feel that there’s a lot to unpack from this period of time. Also hoping for that Demos Vol.2