And I don’t mean the lyrics, although there’s such wonderful poetry in Lovett’s words. I mean the very sound of it: as recorded for his 1992 album Joshua Judges Ruth, this is a song bursting with a sort of sonic agony. Lovett sings like his mind is most certainly elsewhere, thinking of his unnamed She as he half-mumbles his woe. The melody does not require the singer to stretch vocally, nor should it; the limited range and almost mantra-like repetition of the notes paints an image of a soul too distraught to bother with diva-esque flair. There’s no big finish, no flashy high note.
There is a crescendo of sorts, though, quite limited yet far more emotional than a more obvious theatricality. We catch it first in Lovett’s rhythm guitar, pounding out a chord with a quick fury like he’s kicking a wall – and then withdrawing, regretting his outburst, returning to the quiet vocals. But the emotion will not bottle, and again and again he strikes out with that single chord, punctuating every line. By the song’s end, the guitar is joined by piano and pounding bass drum, both echoing the guitar’s increasing ache. By the end of the song, each beat of the drum is like a punch to the singer’s (and listener’s) heart.
(In the live version included below, an electric guitar and cello are more noticeable, creating a counterpoint as if emphasizing the quieter pain that remains in between the outbursts.)
This is the sound of complete sorrow.
And then we add in the lyrics. Lovett’s first words suggest a man still under a haze of confusion and hurt. He can’t be quite sure of the facts. “She said something about going home,” he begins. “She said something about needing to spend some time alone.” The third line offers a moment of hope: “And she wondered out loud what it was she had to find” – could this be the middle of a heartfelt talk? Could he stop her from leaving? But this is not the middle. It is the end: “But she’s already made up her mind.”
The second verse offers a quick sketch of why he failed – and in his mind, it was most definitely he who failed, unable to keep up with a woman “too young,” perhaps out of his league. The third verse reminds us why any efforts to salvage the relationship are futile, comparing a woman’s conviction to ocean depths and the unreachable heights of the sky. Then, at last, we arrive at the break-up in present tense: “And she is talking to me without moving her eyes / Because she’s already made up her mind.” This verse provides the song’s immediacy; this is not a heart that’s broken, it’s a heart that’s breaking, right now, as we listen. The tight performance is claustrophobic, the walls caving in around the narrator. (It also suggests she, like he, isn’t fully “there.” Perhaps she’s practiced this speech a hundred times and is now simply engaging in the formality of actually delivering it.)
A final verse finds him suggesting his friends join him as he kills himself, unable to live without her while keeping her in his thoughts until the very end. (“And remember me to her” are his final instructions.) Are his notions of ending it all in “that ocean deep” serious, or an empty threat, or the unfocused mutterings of a man lost in agony? It never quite matters. The imagery alone is enough to carry us through, the singer drowning in, if nothing else, pure sorrow.
There are a few other break-up songs on Joshua Judges Ruth, an album otherwise loaded with bits of winky, often dark humor. (Even the title suggests a wry joke.) Lovett infuses “All My Love Is Gone” and “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To” with cockeyed wit and a musical lightness. Not so with “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind.” Here, Lovett gets to the very core of romantic despair, drawing us deeper as he stares into the middle distance, pausing only to kick the wall.