Elise Chandler, Assistant Editor
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.
After the beautifully dark AFI track "End Transmission" last week, I decided to lighten the mood a bit for this week's track. I was vacuuming my home, pondering what song to pick to analyze this week when I started humming the most upbeat song my mind could choose to dull the tediousness of adult responsibility - "Left Hand Free" by alt-J.
Usually, I try to pick songs that do not get much radio time, but honestly, for this song being so upbeat and catchy, I feel it doesn't get as much radio time as it deserves. However, alt-J has been quoted as listing this particular song as the "least alt-J sounding song ever" (The Guardian). I wonder if that has anything to do with its lack of radio time.
Regardless, if you complete a quick Google search of the meaning behind these lyrics, you will find two main trains of thought - a more sexual explanation or a gunfight. Which one is it?! Let's delve into the lyrics, and I'll be interested to see what you all think.
The main chorus really tells the story, but like AFI's song, there are keywords throughout the song that hint to the real meaning behind this song. The chorus is as follows:
"Well, your left hand's free
And your right's in a grip
With another left hand
Watch his right hand slip
Towards his gun, oh, no"
The symbolism of the left hand is where a wedding ring goes. So, could the narrator be talking to a girl? Potentially. However, "your right's in a grip" gives a hint a distress. When someone has their fist clenched, it is not usually a good sign. Perhaps he offended a girl, but more likely...it leads to another thought. The last three lines hint at some hand trickery happening. Perhaps to distract the narrator from noticing a reach for their gun.
I'm of the camp that this song is a gunfight. Here are some keywords and phrases that really align my mindset to that path over the other interpretation:
"A right hand grip on his Colt single-action army, oh no"
"N-E-O, O-M-G, gee whiz"
This song is short (2:53), so every word really counts. The mention of an actual type of gun instead of a vague allusion really signals to me that this gun is real; additionally, there is the allusion to The Matrix's "Neo". If you've seen any references to The Matrix, you know that Neo has learned how to control the area around him, knowing it is all an illusion, and he does the cool evasion of the bullets from the gun. Once again, actual referencing to a gun, and the narrator's fantastic ability to avoid their power.
The word "Speakeasy" at once solidifies my belief here, however. Now, we have a setting. Speakeasies were places during Prohibition in the United States where alcohol was served illegally. There was no police to protect you, and thus, it would have felt very much like an old West saloon.
Referencing to a "flower" and "chosen one" and "girl" gives this fight a purpose. A lovely lady must have caught our narrator's attention much to the disapproval of their opponent, and so, we are left with a funky beat, a gunfight to witness, and a witty narrator.
The biggest argument against the gunfight idea is the line "Pick a petal eenie meenie miney moe And, flower, you're the chosen one". Many opponents argue that this line is an allusion to picking a particular video to watch in the aid of their sexual fantasties. However, if you look at the beginning, the narrator admits he is a "prodigal son", meaning he often gets into trouble, but he always seeks forgiveness. He is looking for a "shady baby" perhaps meaning someone in a committed relationship and who should be "off limits", but he perhaps seeks her to find a way to redeem himself.
This is my interpretation, but I am curious as to what you all think and believe. This song creates an interesting debate among listeners because of its fun beat and vague lyrics, but isn't that what good music does? Until next time.