The Single File: Savage Garden

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Last week was one of the most exciting release weeks of the year, and I’ll tell you why: THREE new Savage Garden releases hit the shelves. Did you ever think we’d see the day? Not only are there new expanded reissues of Savage Garden and Affirmation, but we’re also getting The Singles, a long overdue CD/DVD retrospective. Ten years ago saw the release of Truly Madly Completely: The Best Of Savage Garden, but it was far from a complete overview. Notably, certain singles were left off in favour of B-sides, and let’s just say that was not my favourite decision in the world. The Singles lives up to its name, with no exclusions, and to celebrate, let’s RANK.

15. ‘The Best Thing’

UK #35

First of all, there are no losers in this rate. Every song on Savage Garden’s two albums is amazing. ‘The Best Thing’ was their final single, released exclusively in the UK. Despite being their least memorable single, the song had the important opening slot on their Affirmation World Tour. The closest Savage Garden ever got to stadium rock.

14. ‘Santa Monica’

The final track on the first album, from the sound of ‘Santa Monica’ you might think it was a sweet love song, but the lyrics are focused on loneliness and isolation in an unfamiliar place. Released as a single only in Japan, this gorgeous ballad deserved more recognition – but I can also understand that more immediate songs took precedence on the radio.

13. ‘Hold Me’

AU #54, UK #16

Confession: I used to dislike ‘Hold Me’. I thought it was a lesser version of ‘I Knew I Loved You’, and while I still prefer that song (see directly below), I’ve learned to appreciate this on its own merits. ‘Hold Me’ is a major SG hit that got away – released towards the end of the Affirmation era (and as their final Australian single), it got a bit lost, presumably because everyone already had the album.

12. ‘I Knew I Loved You’

AU #4, US #1, UK #10

The chart positions for ‘I Knew I Loved You’ in Australia and the UK don’t represent how incredibly dominant this song was in 1999/2000. It was everywhere, just as ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ was a few years earlier. ‘I Knew I Loved You’ could be criticized for sentimental lyrics or for trying too hard to be a classic tearjerker, but to do so would be to miss the point of Savage Garden – Affirmation was an album all about frank, unfiltered displays of emotion. It won’t be for everybody, but it sure felt like it was back when this song was on the radio five times an hour.

11. ‘Tears Of Pearls’

The polar opposite of the previous track, ‘Tears Of Pearls’ is a full-on dance anthem with plenty of abstract lyrical turns. This was only released in a few European countries, which is a shame because it features one of SG’s best choruses and would have shown a further side of their music to casual listeners.

10. ‘All Around Me’

This time heading into 90’s-era-U2 dance/rock territory, ‘All Around Me’ manages to explore new sounds without seeming out of place on the debut album. As a child I scoured the liner notes to find out who did the rap section only to realise it was Darren many years later. How embarrassment for me. It remains one of my favourite things he has ever done.

9. ‘Universe’

AU #26

A precursor to Darren’s solo hit ‘Insatiable’; ‘Universe’ is a gorgeous late-night slow jam that would slot in easily on any quiet storm or make-out playlist. I can’t believe I used to sit in the car with my whole family and listen to lyrics like “feel my caress so soft and gentle/so delicate you cry for more”. EXPLICIT.

8. ‘Truly Madly Deeply’

AU #1, US #1, UK #4

Inarguably Savage Garden’s biggest hit, the thing that strikes me about ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ when I listen to it today is how well written it is. As one of the most confident, straightforward love songs of the nineties, it can be easy to overlook just how flawlessly realized the lyrics and vocal performance are – if you don’t believe me, listen again to the “and when the stars are shining brightly…” section and tell me that isn’t adult contemporary perfection.

7. ‘Chained To You’

AU #21

My biggest problem with Truly Madly Completely was that ‘Chained To You’ was somehow overlooked for the tracklisting, a decision I felt personally attacked by. I’m not sure if Darren and/or Daniel themselves dislike it, but if they do they still gave the song a hell of a performance on the Affirmation tour. Relentlessly upbeat, another enormous chorus and it mentions Madonna – what more could you ask for?

6. ‘Break Me Shake Me’

AU #7

Savage Garden goes METAL. Okay, not really, but this is the closest they ever came to a headbanger anthem, and Darren gives an intense vocal performance. I love how the song is about a vengeful breakup on the surface, but closer listening reveals lyrics about living with “a ton of regret”, suggesting the narrator isn’t quite as confident as he seems. Further proof that songs with more to them than meets the ear are a running theme in Savage Garden’s discography.

5. ‘Crash And Burn’

AU #16, US #24, UK #14

A gentle song about friendship, ‘Crash And Burn’ could have easily been one of SG’s most inconsequential singles, but yet another faultless chorus elevates it. One of the tracks that defines late nineties radio.

4. ‘The Animal Song’

AU #3, UK #19, UK #16

The Animal Song’ introduced the new, soft-rock based Savage Garden of Affirmation, mixing straightforward, joyous choruses with more Roxette-esque guitars and drums. The conceptual lyrics from the first album weren’t missing, though, and with them ‘The Animal Song’ becomes the perfect bridge from the first album to the follow-up.

3. ‘Affirmation’

AU #16, UK #8

More of a manifesto than a traditional song, ‘Affirmation’ is a real love-it-or-hate-it deal. Obviously, I love it. It means a lot to me, as cheesy as that might sound – but if we can’t get cheesy in an article about Savage Garden, where can we? Seeing the band perform this song live when I was ten years old was quite the experience, and when I saw Darren perform it on The Secret Tour – his last to date – it was a real “full circle” moment.

2. ‘I Want You’

AU #4, US #4, UK #11

Savage Garden almost became one of those bands that never does better than their debut single, and ‘I Want You’ still towers above most other tracks in their brief catalogue. Yeah, in parts it owes a lot to Roxette and Eurythmics, but Darren’s rapid-fire verses are like nothing heard on a hit single before or since. Mix that with the deceptively simple, hands-in-the-air chorus and you’ve got one of the most effortlessly unique radio smashes of the nineties. Darren’s hair in the video was also a personal style inspiration – IMPACT.

Sidenote: I have no idea why there were gnomes on the single cover.

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1. ‘To The Moon And Back’

AU #1, US #24, #3

Most of the songs on this countdown have dealt with intimate, first-person feelings, so it might be a surprise that the very best Savage Garden single is, on the surface, an observation, a story in which we are the voyeur rather than a participant. The lyrics are about a girl who feels disconnected from the world around her, but secretly waits for somebody she can bond with. Even without that incredible chorus, the writing on this song is a truly spectacular example of pop lyricism, so much so that I’m going to conclude by simply quoting a whole verse from the song. Don’t sue me Universal, this is #promo.

She can’t remember a time when she felt needed

If love was red then she was colour blind

All her friends, they’ve been tried for treason

And crimes that were never defined

She’s saying

Love is like a barren place

And reaching out for human faith is

Like a journey I just don’t have a map for

So baby’s gonna take a dive and

Push the shift to overdrive

Send a signal that she’s hanging all her hopes on the stars

What a pleasant dream

Fucking hell, what a song.

The reissued Savage Garden catalogue is out now through Universal. http://savagegarden.umusic.com.au/store/

7 Comments

  1. yuke rizky kristanti

    June 29, 2015 at 11:44 am

    my favorite songs are I knew I loved you & Truly Madly Deeply..and I still like to listening it.yeah! it’s a beautiful songs. congrats abd sucess for you Savage Garden..

    • yuke rizky kristanti

      June 29, 2015 at 11:46 am

      sorry I mean *and* not *abd* :-)

  2. Ayush

    June 29, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    “To the Moon and Back” on top

    Damn straight, it’s the anthem of my life

  3. Sheila White

    June 29, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    I am from the UK. Where can I get Savage Garden singles cd plus other re-released stuff.

  4. Brendan Low

    June 30, 2015 at 5:22 am

    Affirmation is my favourite song of all time second only to John Farnham’s You’re The Voice. I always liked Savage Garden but Affirmation the song and following that, the album is what made me an uber fan to this day.

  5. C Liu

    July 1, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Before Darren came out, I always thought Affirmation as released in the US was his expressing the pain of coming to terms with being gay and learning to deal with a new life.

    And then when you listen to his first solo album, it’s all about embracing who he is. Savage Garden anthems got me through my early gay years.

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