Today’s Song: The xx Finally Hang Up on Misleading, Perceived Fate with “On Hold”

The xx © Alasdair McLellan

It’s been five long years since The xx have put out an album, their last being Coexist in 2012. Which has meant five busy years of touring, preparing, and side projects. They were even featured on the soundtrack for the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, and in May of 2015 Jamie Smith (better known by his stage name Jamie xx) debuted his own solo project, In Colour.  But a couple of months ago, the London trio surprised fans by sharing their first single, “On Hold,” from their third album (titled I See You, set to be released January 13, 2017 via Young Turks). “On Hold” is the first taste of the newest album and has been well-raved over by fans and critics. Although different from the music on their previous albums (they did warn everyone), it’s creatively driven and highly influenced by Jamie xx, who is after all the skilled and talented DJ/producer mastermind behind The xx’s unique charm.

Listen: “On Hold” – The xx


The song begins with Romy Madley Croft femininely singing amongst airy and faded whistle sounds, “I don’t blame you, we got carried away. I can’t hold on to an empty space.” Thereafter, singing partner Oliver Sim takes the lead with:

Now you’ve found a new star to orbit
It could be love
I think you’re too soon to call us old
When and where did we go cold?
I thought I had you on hold
And every time I let you leave
I always saw you coming back to me
When and where did we go cold?
I thought I had you on hold

It’s as if the perplexed song is making an analogy of a troubled relationship officially ending, and a phone call ending after being on hold for too long. Do you ever stay on hold for too long that you eventually hang up—or in relation to this song…give up? The lyrics Sim sings can also be compared to a “cry wolf” scenario of never being taken seriously with games—until it’s too late.

The background music slowly builds up in sound while hopping into a Hall and Oates song, broken up and sampled. And this is the genius of Jamie xx, the 80’s hit song “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” mixing flawlessly with his beats. You can also hear The Cure’s heavy influence on the guitar effects, which is attractively paired with Hall and Oates chanting in a remix sound:

Where does it stop, where does it stop
Where do you dare me to
You’ve got the body, you’ve got the body
Dare me to, dare me to
Where does it stop, where does it stop
Where do you dare me to
You’ve got the body, you’ve got the body

Interestingly enough, the original song’s meaning is not the same as “On Hold” (it’s about them lashing out against the music industry), but Jamie xx remarkably found a way to salvage parts of Hall and Oates lyrics that somehow bridges the two songs for “On Hold”’s purpose. Shortly thereafter, Croft comes back into the lead, with desolate vocals and haunting bass chords:

My young heart chose to believe
We were destined
Young hearts
All need love
Call it a lesson
The stars and the charts
And the cards make sense
Only when we want them to
When I lie awake staring in to space
I see a different view

When we’re young and foolish, we’re enamored with the questionable existence of fate and destiny. Any listener can easily identify with this particular relationship issue. Most people (at some point) have had an overinflated view of someone who ended up not being very compatible with them. Whether it was a friend or a significant other, as we grow and learn, we ultimately realize that the notion of fate is simply not enough to keep two incompatible people together. There is no outside force in control when it comes to making a relationship work.

The entirety of the song has a cool cosmic vibe that revolves around the concept of fate/the universe’s power. Lyrics like “you’ve found a new star to orbit” and “staring into space I see a different view” are connected and symbolic to fit the overall theme. It’s clever and delightful. Fingers crossed that the rest of the album is as universally adored.

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Kim Massuch is a former paralegal, lifelong music enthusiast, indie/horror movie addict, flea market/antique explorer, and professional diaper changer.