A couple of years ago, Mel and I watched a movie from 2016 called Blue Jay. It stars Mark Duplass and the always-excellent Sarah Paulson as Jim and Amanda, high-school sweethearts who run into each other after 20 years. It’s basically just a two-hander, following the characters for 24 hours, during which they get drunk at Jim’s mother’s house and relive their past together, while the unresolved issues between them force their way to the surface.
During the evening, they go through Jim’s collection of mementoes from their relationship. At one point, he puts on an Annie Lennox CD and they dance to No More ‘I Love You’s. At the start, they’re just goofing around, singing along in falsetto, but while the song does its Proustian work on them, they begin to share meaningful eye and bodily contact. As the song ends, the camera lingers for a second on the ring on Amanda’s finger.
It’s a great scene, but it absolutely works as well as it does because of the astute choice of song on the part of whoever was supervising the music (could have been Duplass; he wrote and produced the film, so it’s really his baby).
It would have been easy for the music supervisor to prove their hipster cred by putting something obscure and cool on the soundtrack and have Jim and Amanda dance to that. But that wouldn’t have been true to their characters. Jim and Amanda were evidently not the coolest kids in their school. On the evidence of the skits they recorded together on a cassette player as teenagers, they were probably theatre kids. No More ‘I Love You’s is exactly the kind of thing they would have had as their song: a little arty, a little camp and a little dramatic, but still ultimately a mainstream pop song.
Most importantly, the song pulls off a delicate high-wire act. The falsetto backing vocals and the grandiosity of the arrangement are knowingly (almost provocatively) absurd, but the emotions underpinning Lennox’s performance feel real, and even earnest; she sounds properly committed to the material. The song’s emotional state is complicated, and keeps shifting. This emotional instability is reflected in Jim and Amanda’s move from awkwardness at the beginning of the scene (which they attempt to disguise with humour) to vulnerability and connection at the end, undercut by the knowledge that they can’t recapture who they were as teenagers; the ring on Amanda’s is just one visible sign of this impossibility.
Before watching Blue Jay, I’d have told you I didn’t like No More ‘I Love You’s.
In explaining why, it’s worth pointing out that, in the UK, the song, and its singer, code a little differently than they do in the US. As far as I can tell from its chart positions, it was a middling hit in America, bigger on the dance and AC charts than on the Hot 100. In the UK, on the other hand, it reached number two on the singles chart and was absolutely played to death on commercial radio. It felt inescapable. It’s not a stretch to say that, along with people like Simply Red and Geoge Michael, Lennox was one of the artists who defined commercial radio in the first half in the nineties – Why and Walking on Broken Glass had been just as huge in 1992-3. By the time Essex FM and Capital Radio were done with No More ‘I Love You’s, I never wanted to hear it again.
Its use in Blue Jay, though, hit me hard enough to make me re-evaluate it, and go back to investigate the original recording by one-time Eurythmics support act The Lover Speaks. It’s pretty clear to me now that I got it wrong, and my judgement of the song was affected by its ubiquity on radio. It is, I hear now, a great song – off-kilter and idiosyncratic, but thoroughly pop in how those idiosyncrasies are manifested. The song’s greatness is absolutely present in the original recording, too, despite its rather ponderous rhythm track. David Freeman’s vocal has even more lunatic goth theatricality than Lennox’s, and it’s definitely worth hearing that version if you don’t know it.
So now, despite basically loathing the Eurythmics and my indifference to most of what I’ve heard of Lennox’s solo work, I’ve turned around on No More ‘I Love You’s. And honestly, that’s great. Sometimes it takes a piece of art to show you how you’d got another piece of art wrong.
Blue Jay, incidentally, is well worth seeing. I didn’t really care for the revelation in the final act, but the relationship between the two leads all the way up to that moment felt very real and true. And as I said, it’s the work of people who understand the era in which the characters grew up and how it shaped them.