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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Love Me Again" is a love letter to both an old flame and an old sound

John Newman's hit starts slowly, but he soon unleashes its northern soul flavor.

I remember the early 2010s as the time I started listening to contemporary popular music in earnest. I had always been musically inclined, playing trombone and singing for various school and synagogue ensembles and functions, but for some reason I didn't have the drive to hear current music until around the time I started middle school. Sure, I'd gotten plenty of use out of my parents' CDs, but they only had one that was even from the 2000s (that being Norah Jones' sublime debut Come Away with Me).

Back then, I found newer music through two avenues. The first was my radio. Despite having had a clock radio in my room for as long as I could remember, I only tuned it to the sports channels until 2011 or so. When I finally decided to look around for music stations, I found mainstream stations KYLD (94.9 FM) and KMVQ (99.7 FM), and through them I started to take in the pop music of the day.

Once I started listening on the radio and figuring out the kind of songs I liked, I looked for them on YouTube, my second point of access. Through YouTube's suggested videos, I dove deep into musical rabbit holes of certain artists and sounds — sometimes ending up quite far from where I started. For example, I can definitely say that I was not intending to listen to John Newman's "Love Me Again" when I stumbled upon it in the summer of 2013. Heck, I hadn't ever heard the song before... but once I did, I just couldn't get it out of my head. So many things about it just felt so compelling to me, from the infectious piano line to the horns to John Newman's distinctive accent and belting chorus. To this day, it remains one of my favorite pop tracks of the entire 2010s.

The opening to "Love Me Again" never fails to give me chills. The organ chord and reverb-washed guitar are hauntingly intense as they swell in volume, and the dark feeling continues when they give way to the piano as Newman begins to sing. The piano chords are strongly attacked and on the low end of the instrument, and are both percussive in their initial moment and cavernous in their sustain. The sound is remarkably big for just a piano and a singer — it's clear that Newman and producer Steve Booker wanted to fill up all the space the track had at its disposal.

The combination of darkness and large space reflects Newman's lyrics quite well. The narrative is a first-person plea to be forgiven and taken back by a former lover, in which Newman as the protagonist apologizes to an ex he has wronged: "Took you so low / Where only fools go / I shook the angel in you." Especially in the context of calling himself "devil" in a prior line, the use of "angel" to describe the former partner emphasizes the narrator's acknowledgment of his wrongdoing. Though it can't be heard until the very end of the intro, Newman offers a possibility for brightness and improvement through the narrator's confidence and strength: "Now I'm rising from the ground / Rising up to you."

A descending string sequence and guitars usher in the chorus. Newman belts out the title question — "I need to know now / Know now / Can you love me again?" — while being backed at first just by the piano, which has gone up an octave and thus instantly sounds five notches brighter. After two repetitions, the full backing band of drums, guitar, bass, and horns joins Newman and the piano, with strings taking the top end when Newman drops out. It all sounds so powerful, so robust... but even more than that, it sounds like pure northern soul.

Honestly, had I not seen the video's upload date and resolution, I would have initially thought that "Love Me Again" was straight out of the late 1960s, because it's as close to that era's northern soul as any 2010s track could be. Derived from the fast and syncopated beats of mid-60s Motown, northern soul quickly caught on in the north of England before sweeping across the rest of the country by the early 70s. This success was buoyed by the genre's danceability, which lent it to doing quite well in the club scene. Fast-forward to 2012, when Yorkshire native Newman was recording his debut album Tribute, and it becomes clear that the genre has had a lasting impact.

Of course, a genre having a lasting impact also means it can be adapted, adjusted for modernity. The half-time bridge demonstrates exactly that through the addition of a thoroughly 2010s element into the mix: a wobble bass. It's only present for the latter section of the bridge, but it has a substantial impact: It works with Newman's lyrics ("I told you once, I can't do this again") to provide a marked increase in the track's intensity, the momentum from which propels the song into its final chorus and conclusion. The wobble bass also helps assert the track's more contemporary nature. While an unorthodox choice given the genre, to my surprise it ends up fitting the moment very well.

In being a 2010s take on northern soul, "Love Me Again" is a shining example of how an artist can be faithful to a genre and a sound while also pushing it forward. Music — like all other arts — is a constantly evolving form, and great creativity and variety are possible when combining influences and eras. As I think to the current 2021 pop scene and its inundation with 80s-influenced beats, I long for more artists to see things the way John Newman does and avoid only being influenced by just one slice of musical history and style at a time.


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