Behind the Lyrics - The Black Keys "Fever"


Welcome to "Behind the Lyrics" with Elise Chandler. Each week, I find a song that I feel is understated both musically and lyrically, and I analyze it through several critical lenses. 

This week, we are looking at "Fever" by The Black Keys. While the music is groovin' and the lyrics are fun to sing, this song impresses me because the lyrics are just vague enough to fit whatever the listener needs it to be. Let's delve into this idea further by looking at some lyrics.

"Fever cause I'm breaking

Fever got me aching Fever, why don't you explain? Break it down again Fever got me guilty Just go ahead and kill me Fever, why don't you explain? Break it down again"

This is the chorus of the song, but even if we look at the other verses we can see the same main idea:

"Fever, can you hear me?

Fever, can you hear me? You shook me like I never been Now show me how to live again It used to be a blessing But fever's got me stressing Realize I am to blame But fever let me play the game Fever"

The main idea of this being -- What/who is this fever? Almost every line in the song starts with "fever", and some would argue "fever" is a woman from lines like "you shook me like I've never been" -- a kind of salute to blues artists or "if the cold, pale, light in your eyes" definitely makes it clear it is a human because of the reference to eyes. However, I would argue something bigger is happening. 

For many songs, I like to take a look at the music video too. This helps me see another side of the song that the artists are emphasizing. In the video, it is set-up like a televangelist - a preacher (hot, sweaty, and passionate) begging TV viewers to donate money to see miracles today! At first, this video confused me. I too thought this song was clearly about a woman the narrator is in love with all the lines that personify "fever".  

However, the video points out the vagueness of the lyrics. If we look again at the chorus above, we see signs of simple obsession -- "aching", "breaking", "guilty", and the narrator is even begging for answers of why this "fever" has such a hold over him. This leads me to conclude "Fever" is a song about anything that has ever had a hold over listeners. Something that you could not get enough of that made you as passionate and animated as the preacher in their video. 

For some, that may be a woman. For others, video games, gambling, alcohol, adrenaline rushes, etc. However, this song embodies the repetition and swirling confusion of how we allow our obsessions to control us and lead us astray. The vagueness of the wording is what appeals to us listeners because "fever" can be whatever we need it to be. But isn't that what good music does? Until next time. 


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