Despite appearances to the contrary, and the gently explicit lyricism, Breathe is a gospel song. While the angelic choir or low moaning blues vocals might not give it to you immediately, the celebration – the inter mingling of body, spirituality and the elevation of sex to celebratory ritual – might.
For me it combines ways to talk about sex – tight and funky Prince guitars and cheeky irreverence; the dark magic, pulsing low end, off kilter looping of D’Angelo’s Voodoo. But I’m never going to manage the offhanded sexiness of either of those two masters, and I know it. I guess the lyrical drive comes in part from Bruce Springsteen’s Cover me – itself perhaps a reference to the Biblical story of Ruth – arguably one of the few times we see specific references to premarital sex and romantic coupling in the Old Testament. Yep. Desire, old school.
Which brings us to entanglement / disentanglement.
We make our way along the beach
to the headland past the people
I feel like you could open me up
Here’s the church,
here’s the steeple
Being a Baptist minister’s son, there was a lot to be scared about when it came to sex… In a way, Breathe names it and attempts (as many of my songs do) to find something holy in being entangled in someone else, rather than wrapped up in an idea. Ok, so there’s an element of ridiculous romanticism here, but it’s also anchored in time and surroundings – the headland, Icebergs (the famous club on Bondi Beach) and probably most importantly the most explicit verses:
Close enough to slide my hand
beneath your skirt and find you wet
Not a revolution or a revelation, although a very real moment and observation involving bodies and bodily fluid, moving the track out of the extract and into a real life event. For me, this song and the album from which it is drawn has always named an awakening – a sense of being opened up and set free from enslavement by body and desire. The sense that sex was something shared – breathed in – and more about engagement, communion and celebration than transgression.
And it’s enough to light me up…