Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[MUSIC] Shakespear's Sister, "Stay"

I listed Shakespear's Sister's 1992 international hit "Stay" among my most favourite songs when runyon's music-tagged me for the simple wrong that it is might well be my favourite song. Let me explain.

The defunct duo Shakespear's Sister was formed by ex-Bananarama singer Siobhan Fahey and former Eric Clapton collaborator Marcella Detroit in 1988. Although they together released only two albums and assorted singles, as this Shakespear's Sister discography reveals, their collaboration was quite musically productive. 1988's Sacred Heart can best be described as promising, with catchy songs like "You're History" and "Break My Heart" and a decent cover of Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved." Shakespear's Sister enjoyed some success in the United Kingdom with their first album. It's only when they released their second album in 1992, Hormonally Yours, that they became international stars.

Hormonally Yours is a superb album. It's melodic, combining Fahey's taste for electronic popular music with Detroit's background in the guitar and with older forms of popular music. It's vocally attractive, combining Fahey's high falsetto with Detroit's low growl. It's lyrically sophisticated, taking "Hello (Turn Your Radio On)" as a single example: "[A]s I stumbled through/last night's drunken debris/the paperboy screamed out/the headlines in the street/Another war and now the pound is looking weak./And tell me have you read about the latest freak ?/We're bingo numbers and our names are obsolete/Why do i feel bitter when i should be feeling sweet?" Track #6, "Stay," is the high point of this album.

If this world is wearing thin
And you're thinking of escape
I'll go anywhere with you
Just wrap me up in chains
But if you try to go alone
Don't think I'll understand

Stay with me
Stay with me

"Stay" is a love song, and the first six lines--sung by Fahey; this is important--set up the framework. There is someone the singer loves, but this singer might be ambivalent about the relationship. Simple restlessness is something that the singer would accept; abandonment, though, is beyond the pale.

It's worth at this point to refer to Sophie Muller (last noted here as a director of the Eurythmics' Savage video album) and the "Stay" video that she directed for the duo. The video begins with a tight shot on a celestial body; as the camera retreats, the body in question is revealed to be the Earth, and the camera located inside a base on Earth's moon. (It's a full Earth, in case you're wondering.) Fahey's character is modestly dressed in a black dress sitting by the body of her lover, connected to some sort of life-support machine--his chest expands as the air-compressor moves, and so forth--and watching over him. The fear of abandonment receives here its most definitive expression.

In the silence of your room
In the darkness of your dreams
You must only think of me
There can be no in between
When your pride is on the floor
I'll make you beg for more

Stay with me
Stay with me

This is where the song begins to get interesting. The fear of abandonment present in the first verse intensifies here, as Fahey's character goes on to claim a veto not only her lover's actions but his thoughts. I've heard few recent popular music songs which discuss so explicitly the possessive qualities of love. This is a pity, since this seems to be at the heart of love. Proof that you're actually a functioning human being, that you're good enough as a person to attract someone else to you. Keeping a love object close to you can be quite important. From this point, things can quickly become pathological, as anyone familiar with the phenomenon of stalking can point out, but protectiveness and possessiveness are nonetheless integral elements of love.

You'd better hope and pray
That you make it safe
Back to your own world
You'd better hope and pray
That you'll wake one day
In your own world
Coz when you sleep at night
They don't hear your cries
In your own world
Only time will tell
If you can break the spell
Back in your own world

Detroit's part is decidedly different. Fahey's character makes her claim upon her lover; Detroit's character denies these claims. The video shows her immodestly dressed in a black bodysuit as a vamp; perhaps Detroit's character is also as a vampire, since she has come to take the lover away into the afterlife. "Stay" reveals itself to be a dialogue between two women over the fate of Fahey's character's lover, who interestingly remains comatose throughout the debate. Love, Detroit sings nicely in her low insinuating voice, is a prison, a realm apart from the real world, a sort of shadow realm filled with unknown threats. Love is entrapment, an enticement that might be inescapable: "Only time will tell/If you can break the spell/Back in your own world."

The song ends with Fahey's rather impressive pleas for her lover to stay with her, backed by Detroit. The video shows the characters of Fahey and Detroit fight over the lover's comatose body. Fahey's character wins in the end, holding him close as he comes back to consciousness. Detroit's character shrugs and slinks away with a small smile. Tomorrow's another day, after all.

"Stay" is a post-modern love song that shows desire and its dark side, independence and its shadows, the dynamic tension between the two, and is rather easy on the ears and poetic in the bargain. It's unquestionably a triumph of British popular music in the early 1990s. It's a pity that the Fahey-Detroit duo that drove Shakespear's Sister didn't last much beyond Hormonally Yours and "Stay," but at least we have these artifacts to sustain us.
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