Now I’m no music expert but I do know a little about words so let’s pick apart Luke Hemming’s debut single ‘Starting Line’ and see if he’ll pass it.
First, let me make an untechnical point about the sound of the song! I thought there was something very familiar to the tune and my mind kept trailing back to CALM, 5SOS fourth studio album. I realise t there seems to be a similar sound from the last fourteen seconds of ‘Best Years’ and throughout Hemming’s new single. It may be a coincidence but it fits perfectly!
‘Starting Line’ is about recalling memories, trying to place certain events and choosing what to remember. Best Years holds a similar theme but looks more into the future. Perhaps during his one-year reflection, Hemming’s realised you can’t move forward until you confront and soothe the past. Only after you deal with the bad memories and trauma can you then go on to have the ‘Best Years’.
So let’s look at the lyrics. The song starts:
“In and out of focus
Moments that I keep
Something for the pain
And something so I sleep”.
Hemming’s paints a camera screen, trying to focus on blurry memories and recall them. He is trying to choose what ones he wants in his life.
Of course, there is no camera. This is all in Hemming’s mind. And the mind is not as reliable or kind. Philosophers for years have warned us of the unreliability and cruelty of the mystery thing in our heads. As Descartes would say how does Hemming’s know for certain that he played a stadium concert when it may just be an evil demon tricking him? Sorting through memories is a painful and daunting process and it takes time.
Later in the first verse Hemming’s sing:
“Visceral in doses
Hiding in the seams”.
Sometimes he experiences intense convictions of certain events. He knows they happened and the memories emerge from nowhere. The mind is a grey and murky area, there is little known about it. But sometimes you get these deep-down gut feelings about things that you know are right. It seems Hemming’s knows that these vibrant moments are ones to keep and bring out occasionally like an old photo stored away.
The chorus is the most powerful part of the song. The sound becomes more intense to not only portray Hemming’s getting more frustrated for the time lost but also deciding that now is the time to sort out what has happened in the past and who he is going to be from now on.
The line “I’m missing all these memories, maybe they were never mine” strikes as harshly true. After just reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Pale View of Hills, Hemming’s song makes perfect sense (and I recommend this book to him too). Ishiguro’s novel is about dealing with trauma and memories much like Hemming’s single. The novel looks at how collective and individual traumas are the same. They cannot be distinguished from the other. Often memories resemble those of other people. There are blank spots in our lives and we use other peoples narratives to fill them in. It is only after intense reflection — a period like a lockdown helping — that the truth (or as close to the truth as possible) can be uncovered.
And the “starting line”, what is that all about? It seems like he forgot to live. Forgot to take in these moments as they were so they became something more solid in his mind as time went by.
My overall thoughts on the lyrics are that they are incredibly raw and philosophical. It takes time and profound reflection to find stability again and only then can you start living your life — otherwise fuzziness will pile upon fuzziness.
‘Starting Line’ is Hemming’s introspective on the nearly past decade with his band. An exploration of his fears, identity and what he is hoping to gain in life.