It is said there are three industries that are recession-proof: the Hollywood studio system, prostitution, and illegal drugs. There is clearly a fourth player, which is the production of massive, string-draped ballads belted by strong-yet-broken women.
Adele slept for close to five years between her second and third album, yet all it took was a thirty-second snippet of a new ballad to “pop up on the old telly” (imagine that part in her accent), and it was like all the physical retailers and classic-radio formatters groggily woke from hibernation, and started stacking display shelves/playlists. If you listen to any radio station these days where relaxation and smooth sounds are key, you’ll find Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Demi Lovato – three of the most popular artists for teenagers – sitting alongside records cut when they were but a twinkle in their mothers’ West Coast Coolers. It’s like now the generation raised in the ’60s are the elders, the entire script has flipped, and kids are yelling at their Deadhead grandparents to turn down that damn racket. Or something.
‘Love Will Lead You Back’ was released as a single in January, 1990, and still sits alongside the aforementioned upstarts on those easy listening stations. Despite some of-the-time production choices, and an odd sitar that chimes occasionally throughout, this song could be a hit single tomorrow. And while the vocal angst is all Taylor’s the song itself was penned by Diane Warren, one of the most successful hit writers of all time. She even wrote 2014 #1 smash ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like That’ by Paloma Faith, which very much adheres to the big strings, big vocal, big heartache template set forth by her various hits. Here’s a partial rollcall: ‘Because You Loved Me’ – Celine Dion; ‘How Do I Live’ – LeAnn Rimes; ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ – Aerosmith; ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ – Cher; ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ – Starship; ‘Unbreak My Heart’ – Toni Braxton; ‘When I See You Smile’ – Bad English. (She also wrote ‘Blame It On The Rain’ by Milli Vanilli, which started the lip-syncing trend in pop).
A major factor in the success of Diane Warren’s singles is the universality of them all. There are never any layers to unravel, no metaphors masking anything, no bandages stopping the songs from bleeding out. “Love Will Lead You Back” is the title, and the main thesis of this song. It takes the “if you love someone set them free…” fable and really, really believes it, despite an outstanding lack of evidence. The first verse showcases this confusion: she concedes that “you never said that you’d stay forever”, suggesting they both knew this relationship had an expiry date, then goes on to let him free while placing forever caveats on this, steadfast that “I know in time, that we’ll be together.” Gulp!
She won’t try to stop him leaving, but she’s making no bones about how temporary this separation will be. It’s an odd passive-aggressive move, the “you’ll be back, just wait and see” but it seems born of desperation in this case. Perhaps in all cases? Believing this, truly believing it, seems to be the only life-raft Taylor has at this moment, and she is clinging on for everything it is worth. Her proclamations are definitive: “I’m sure as stars are shining”; “I just know that”; “one of these days”; “you’re gonna say how much you missed me”, etc. She steps out the entire scenario of him returning in her head – although she seems confused as to whether it’ll occur of a day or a night – and is therefore inactive in her pursuit of this future. It’s in the hands of chance – a dangerous place to leave important life decisions – and she seems sure that love and time alone will be the key ingredients that bring him back to her arms.
The second half of the “if you love someone set them free” quote is, of course, along the lines of, “if they come back, they are yours; if they don’t, they never were.” It’s never assured, and even when the options seem to be tipping in your favour, it’s still a big gamble to leave resting on fate.