“C’est la Mort,” a song off Barton Hollow, The Civil Wars debut album, is described by the band as their idea of a love song; “a couple who had spent the past together and the present together and wanted to spend the future together, whether that meant alive or dead.”
“Swan dive down, eleven stories high/ Hold your breath, until you see the light/ You can sink to the bottom of the sea/ Just don’t go without me.”
The delicate piano tinkering and guitar picking seem to act as musical footsteps that weave around each other becoming one sound, one instrument. John Paul White’s and Joy William’s vocals continue along this path, complementing each other until they reach final refrain of the song. Their voices rising and falling in tandem, following on another to the story’s natural end.
“Heaven or hell, or somewhere in between/ Cross your heart to take me when you leave/ Don’t go without me.”
Four years later Lana Del Rey has written “Swan Song” for Honeymoon, exploring a similar subject The Civil Wars did in “C’est la Mort.” The only difference is that instead of two lovers asking one to not leave the other even in death, Del Rey almost hypnotically coerces her lover to follow her into death.
“You got your money now, you’ve got your legacy/ Let’s leave the world for the ones who change everything.”
Del Rey’s is her telling her love that they can both leave the struggles of the world behind and be free together in death. Echoing Hamlet’s thoughts on life and death; “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” The song opens and closes with the lines, “Put your white tennis shoes on and follow me/ Why work so hard when you could just be free.”
One of the most visually beautiful, poetically ambiguous lyrics I have heard for a while, conjuring up feelings of freedom and lightness of step and heart. “Swan Song” is sonically vast and full of musical and vocal layering unlike the organic and bare “C’est la Mort.” The song is full of echoing, haunting synths, a quiet but defiant drumbeat and Lana’s subdued and free flowing vocals. “C’est la Mort” and “Swan Song” explore the darker aspects of love but perhaps the more beautiful side of that emotion too, of wanting be with your love, not only in life but in death also.