Sixpence None The Richer: Kiss Me
efore Stacie Orrico, Evanescence and “The way Kathy needed Regis that’s the way I need Jesus”, those of us who’ve harboured a 2,000 year long hatred of the Jews for the manner in which they brutally murdered our Lord had Sixpence None The Richer. And for a few glorious moments in 1999, the heathens had a reason to listen in as well.
Simply put, “Kiss Me” is the sound of a band using up all of their lifelines on one question, and winning the million anyway. It’s the sound of a group of musicians using up every single piece of talent they would have diasporaed over their entire back catalogue, and instead gorging themselves on genius for one solitary track, unconcerned that they’d never match those feats again. It’s a sound that resides at the pinnacles of CCM, Dawsoncore, and twee-pop. It was the best single of 1999. It was the best indie-pop single of the nineties. It’s the best AOR tune of the past twenty years. It’s the best song to mention barley ever. It’s a masterpiece.
From their formation in 1992, right up until 1999, vocalist Leigh Nash (looked a bit like one of the Sims), guitarist/songwriter Matt Slocum, and the economy pack of rent-a-goatee mid 90s alt.rock types that made up the rest of the band never looked like any of the bands that made a great impression on the world outside of the CD shelves on The Manna House, Britain’s premier Christian bookstore chain. They didn’t deserve to. They peddled a brand of alterno-Christcore that, whilst staying away from the dominant style of youth orientated religious music of the time (“Hey dude, why don’t we pair ska-punk with the Good Word? We could call ourselves The Psalmanders!”), didn’t have the originality to break the mainstream, the unbearable chirpiness to conquer the Christian teen market, or the talent to bother anyone else. You can ignore their entire back catalogue up to “Kiss Me”. The experience of listening to it will leave you, hey, none the richer.
But then “Kiss Me” happened. And I truly believe it did happen, I don’t believe that they recorded it. I’m confident that a burning bush appeared in the middle of the studio and chucked the DAT for this at them. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only piece of heartbreakingly beautiful naïve pop perfectionism, that whoever purchases it shall not perish, but have eternal aural pleasure at hand”. And in a year that threw up such chart non-delights as Gay Dad, the New Radicals and “Why Don’t You Get A Job?”, people clung onto this shit like a lifesaver, me included. It got onto Dawson’s Creek. It soundtracked She’s All That. It seemed that wherever there were teens having issues, Leigh Nash was there in the background, asking us to take the trail marked on our father’s map. And if you follow that path, you go to “Kiss Me”
It’s a hard song to describe. It’s weird to think that a few months prior to this Belle and Sebastian released “Legal Man” in a (pretty successful) attempt to crossover to the mainstream, because a quick listen to Fold Your Hands Child… seems to suggest that this was the one song they were aiming for throughout the entire venture. It sounds like The Sundays and Over The Rhone and like two people soaked in tears for no other reason than that they’re happy, and nobody wants them to be happy, and they’re hugging each other in the middle of a damp churchyard, but the sun’s just starting to shine, and they think, you think, “Things may just get better”.
The lyrics form an agenda of childlike innocence, but not from a child, rather from a woman who’s afraid of adulthood. The opening lines: “Kiss me out on the bitter barley / Lightly”. “Lightly” gets a line of its own, such is the urgency and fear that the kiss could degenerate into anything sexual. The undercurrent of unsure lust runs throughout the song, the vaguely coquettish calls of “Kiss me” immediately being qualified with tree-houses and times spent on swings, and reminders of your father. She explicity mentions following the trail laid by your father (“Our Father”, more likely), the trail laid on his map, going along with the plans he’s laid out for us, never deviating from them. She’s cock-blocking with apologia.
This leaves in the dust the backing jangles and coos with that half-acoustic/half-electric ish that visually unappealing indie poseurs Pavement attempted with “Carrot Rope” earlier in the year, skipping into the sunset in a summer dress, heart beating far too fast, repeating over and over again “Kiss me”, and still being afraid of anything else developing, until 3 minutes 11 seconds into the song the band just before their instruments down before Leigh does something she’ll regret, and the song just peters out whilst she maintains eye contact for a few more seconds, finally pulling away at 3:21 when it ends. It’s over.
Someone once asked Don McLean what “American Pie” actually meant, only for him to reply, “It means I never have to worry about money again”. SNTR didn’t seem to realise that when you’ve won the lottery it means you can stop working. So they continued their career along two bizzarely disparate paths. First, they railed against their fame. Some fan-sites call them the Christian Radiohead (“OK Corinthians”?), with an intense embarrassment of their “Creep” causing them to become more and more uncommercial. This is why you never heard of them again outside of their second path. Cover versions. Covers versions of mediocre drivetime standards: The Las, Crowded House, if they’d have had any more time they’d have probably tackled The Lightning Seeds as well. None of these songs were any good. You could say Sixpence wasted all their talent with “Kiss Me”, but it wasn’t wasted. It was put to good use. It’s important that songs like these don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Sixpence None The Richer finally split in February 2004, to little fanfare. They are survived by one 24 carat classic single, a number of ill-advised follow-ups and a gaping hole in the soundtracks of all teen orientated romantic dramas. Where are you now Julia Stiles? A lonely nation turns its eyes to you.
By: Dom Passantino
Published on: 2004-11-03