July 15, 2021

Against The World: Only Love

Lyrically, "Only Love" is my favorite single yet from Against The World. I swear I fell in love with it a little more every time I looked over the lyrics while trying to write this post. That's not to say I don't also love the sound, but the word nerd in me can't get enough of how much is packed into these lyrics. Each verse tells a different story but follows the same general format: a struggling character desperate to run away from something on a self-destructive streak.

In the first verse, we meet a "lost soul" that the speaker describes as "just another proud man still hiding from the vow on his hand." He leaves his three children and his wife to chase another woman and feels no guilt for leaving his family.

The second verse describes a different scenario and presented me with a grammatical crisis that is unfortunately going to lead to the following tangent before I get on with an explanation. As someone with a very literary/grammatical brain, I sometimes stumble over a set of words if they're not spelled or punctuated correctly. Throw a comma in the wrong place, and I will read that sentence exactly as you wrote it and not necessarily as you meant it, for better or for worse. So when I audibly heard that first line sans any visible grammatical cues, and with the knowledge that sometimes songs emphasize sentences differently for the sake of sound, I struggled with how to mentally punctuate the thing and make sense of it.

First, I couldn't tell if the line was:

I have weakness as she sings as her heart beats to the rhythm of the saints.


I have weaknesses she sings as her heart beats to the rhythm of the saints

Neither one quite made sense to me, but then I saw someone point out that "The Rhythm of the Saints" is the title of a Paul Simon album and song, and after Googling lyrics, everything fell into place:

"I have weaknesses," she sings, as her heart beats to "The Rhythm of the Saints." 

God bless well-placed quotation marks. Sometimes they're totally neccessary.

Grammatically induced tangent aside, "I have weaknesses" is the first lyric in "The Rhythm of the Saints," meaning the scene in verse two opens up with a woman singing along to Paul Simon, assumedly in a car on the run from some kind of "darkness" (another "The Rhythm of the Saints" lyric). She stops, robs a cashier at gunpoint, and keeps on running "without a care." 

The third verse is where we see an obvious change. We do get a new character, but it's not the same format anymore. The song progression goes from "he" in the first verse to "she" in the second verse to "I" in the third verse. Up until this point, the speaker has been telling us stories of other people, but this time he's getting more personal. He starts out with an admission of flaws similar to the previous two characters, admitting he is aware of his "demons and broken dreams and running headlong into false plans." But unlike the first two verses, this one doesn't end in a line describing how he kept running without feeling remorse. Instead, we get the best two lines in the song:

So whether hipsters or holy rollers, we find ourselves holding court on our knees./
But "broken" won't define you, 'cause love can always find you.

Instead of continuing his self-destructive string of bad decisions, he acknowledges them and stops to "hold court on [his] knees," a position that implies prayer. If you'd prefer to skip the religious context, I think you could also choose to interpret it as a man in a position to beg someone for forgiveness after owning up to his mistakes. 

Whether you choose to interpret his relationship as one with God or one with a spouse, family member, or friend, the answer is the same: only love (and its implied counterpart: forgiveness) can save him. 

Personally, I can't ignore 1. The church imagery from the music video, 2. Hanson's occasional tendency to include religious references in their music, and 3. The fact that just plain seeing Isaac in that collared white shirt in the promo images screamed "Preacher!" before I ever heard the song. When I think about Preacher!Isaac, I can't help but think about growing up in my own Southern Baptist church and how incredibly similar the entire message in this song sounds to some of the sermons I've heard. It's got parables, references to lost souls, and an uplifting encouragement to accept love and be saved from your past sins. It starts with a couple of cautionary tales, gives a personal testimony, and ends with a call to you personally. That's sermon formula 101.

And while that may be my personal takeaway from this song, "love" as a theme is such a big universal concept that leaves us open to make our own personal connections. No matter your perspective, it's a rock-solid song about how love and forgiveness are tied together. It's about looking for redemption and letting love save you from a self-destructive path, and that's true whether it's God's love, romantic love, familial love, or simply learning to love yourself. ❤

Disclaimer: Hanson has not released official lyrics for this song, so this analysis is based on my best take after listening and comparing what I heard to what other fans have heard. Sorry if there are any inaccuracies!