By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘No More “I Love You”s’ is one of those songs which few people probably realise is actually a cover version. The most famous rendition of this 1980s song was actually released slap bang in the middle of the 1990s, by the Scottish singer and former Eurythmic, Annie Lennox.
Let’s take a closer listen to ‘No More “I Love You”s’ and discover the song’s true meaning, and its curious origins in the work of a band you’ve probably never heard of.
‘No More “I Love You”s’: meaning
First, as is our wont here at What Songs Mean, let’s subject the lyrics to the Annie Lennox version of the song to the close scrutiny and analysis we like to apply to any and every pop song.
The speaker of the lyrics (we use the term ‘speaker’, in keeping with the term used for the person who speaks in a lyric poem) begins by telling us she used to be mad and miserable, with many sleepless nights.
This state of unrest was apparently caused by the ‘gracious’ days (a word which is unclear in its meaning here: it could mean simply ‘pleasant’, or could refer to divine grace – for instance, the almost spiritual days of one’s carefree youth). Probably the most logical interpretation is ‘I used to behave irrationally in the days of young love, when we all do stupid things’.
The speaker used to wear her (bleeding and aching) heart on her sleeve, so her emotions were exposed for her lovers to see. But now things are different: she no longer bounces around doing crazy things and singing love songs which will only make her unhappy.
This brings us to the chorus of the song, which provides its title: she is no longer going to say ‘I love you’, though whether because she is unable or merely unwilling remains open to question. The language of love (to borrow from another Annie Lennox outfit, Eurythmics) is leaving her, though, which suggests she is losing the ability to say those three special words. The words’ meaning appears to be shifting and changing as the speaker gains more life experience.
In the second verse, the speaker tells her about how she was haunted by the ‘monsters’ of desire and despair at night: the pangs of (possibly unrequited or simply unhappy) love. But now, as we return to the familiar bridge and chorus of the song, we know that she is leaving that sort of thing behind – or rather, it is leaving her behind.
‘No More “I Love You”s’: analysis
One of the central questions of ‘No More “I Love You”s’ is this: is it a song in celebration of losing one’s reliance on love, or is it a song mourning the loss of the ability to say ‘I love you’?
Although this issue remains ambiguous and contentious, there are several clues that the song is really about someone who has grown up and left behind the irrational and emotionally heady days of first love.
Words like ‘lunatic’ and ‘crazy’, which appear in the song, support this idea: where once she was ready to throw herself headlong into the experience of being in love, and saying the words ‘I love you’ to her sweetheart (probably in the misguided hope that it would help her to keep hold of him), she is now more cautious and perhaps even hard-nosed about the whole experience.
So ‘No More “I Love You”s’ could almost be retitled as ‘no more being an emotional doormat’ and ‘no more giving myself to unworthy people who won’t love me back’. Note that it’s no more ‘I love you’s’: there is no mention of her lover saying the words back to her.
Indeed, according to the haunting backing vocals which follow the chorus, this lover only speaks of the ‘monsters’: those doubts of despair which punctuate the feelings of desire the speaker feels for him.
Although we only get a few hints of this relationship the speaker of the song is leaving behind, it appears to have been a rather one-sided one in which she was used by her lover, caring more for him than he did for her.
But we began by mentioning that ‘No More “I Love You”s’ is actually a cover version. Indeed, it’s the opening track on Medusa, Annie Lennox’s second solo album from 1995: a whole album full of cover versions (it also features a haunting cover of Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, as well as a rather wistful and beautiful rendition of The Blue Nile’s ‘Downtown Lights’).
And ‘No More “I Love You”s’ began life in 1986 as a song by the British musicians David Freeman and Joseph Hughes, who recorded it under the name The Lover Speaks (a name derived from the song’s lyrics, of course). The song appeared on the band’s self-titled album of 1986, and, like every track on the album, was based on a concept in the French theorist Roland Barthes’ 1977 book A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments.
Curiously, Freeman has said that the lyrics to ‘No More “I Love You”s’ were based around the idea that when you say to someone ‘I love you’, you usually hear the words ‘I love you, too’ in return. But then one day your lover responds in silence and doesn’t say ‘I love you, too’, because that person has reached the ‘no more “I love you’s” stage’. Freeman said he took this emotional situation and put it into ‘Gothic terms’: all those monsters and demons.
Of course, this makes it sound as though Freeman should have called the song ‘No more “I love you, too”’s’, and what is interesting about this insight into the song’s genesis is that Annie Lennox’s rendition, with somewhat altered lyrics, also changed the song’s meaning.
Although she maintained the Gothic touches to the lyrics, she made the song much more about a lover who is not going to let herself be at the whim of her impulsive and inadvisable emotions any longer. For her, the language of love is leaving her not because she has stopped loving a worthy lover, but because she has stopped letting herself be conned into loving an unworthy one.