Recently while listening to some music I came across a set of YouTube users who had managed to compile various lengthy videos as best of collections for the defunct Australian pop-rock duo Savage Garden. Little thought of or remembered at present, between 1996 and 2001 they were big all around the world. Two successful albums, 2 #1 hits, and a handful of other hit singles will tend to make a band famous for a while at least, and this band brought the musical goods to go along with their chart success. Yet after two albums, the band broke apart because of internal drama, likely related to the mercurial but charismatic lead singer Darren Hayes being unable to successfully collaborate or communicate with his less flamboyant bandmate Daniel Jones. The story is not a new one. Writing about bands or musicians with a great deal of internal turmoil, or music that is unjustly neglected or forgotten, is far from unusual here . Nevertheless, as is often the case, the story is a good one and is worth getting to know for its own details, and then drawing insights from a story, even if it does travel a well-worn path.
The first I ever heard from the band was their upbeat and quirky “I Want You,” with its rapid-fire lyrics full of odd but arresting images. Such a beginning could easily have led to the status of one-hit wonderdom, but following that the band had an underrated top 40 hit with “To The Moon And Back” and then another smash hit with “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” which stayed on the charts for seemingly forever. Even without a great deal of success in the later singles of the album, it was clear from the fact that the album sold seven million copies and managed to stay relevant for years that this was a band with a bright future. This impression did not change when the band had a soundtrack hit with “The Animal Song” before another successful album which had another massive hit with “I Knew I Loved You” and another endless run of quirky but lovely singles like the top 40 hit “Crash And Burn.” And then the band did just that, crashing and burning, leaving nothing but the occasional re-issue or compilation, and giving Darren Hayes a career as a solo artist that was nowhere near as success as his previous one with the duo.
What happened? As is the case with any breakup, there were a host of problems. The band’s duo had problems communicating, to the point where they had almost broken up after their successful debut before agreeing to give it one more go for their successful sophomore album, but after that they just could not get along with each other. Perhaps not coincidentally for a band that continually sang about high-drama relationships, they had one themselves. One of the reasons why their music was so popular was because it was easy to relate to, and little is easier to relate to than having problems communicating with loved ones, with being caught in the tension between fear and longing, between one’s passions and one’s limitations. In addition to the band’s internal turmoil, in their personal relationships as well as their relationship with each other, the band was under significant external pressure as well by the popularity of their debut. According to Fred Bronson, after finishing Affirmation they were told to come up with another ballad in the style of “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” and quickly did so with “I Knew I Loved You.” It is a shame that the label did not want something quirky like “I Want You,” but it is clear that the ballad was the safer of the choice, if the less interesting of them, and music labels appear to be vastly more interested in safe and boring than they are in adventurous. Having a low risk tolerance seems to come along with the feeling of vulnerability. It is likely that the pressure from the label contributed to the band’s internal difficulties, as is often the case, and despite two successful albums, the band called it quits.
How will the work of the duo endure? I have both of their albums, and find their singles to be a better judge of their quality than the “best of” compilations, which don’t include their singles and often leave off many of the songs that I view as their best. There is something worthwhile about seeing what a band intended for public release, what gets more attention from the producer and mixer, and so on. Their music sounds as enjoyable now as it did fifteen to twenty years ago, as ear-wormy, as easy to enjoy, as emblematic of the shift towards EDM and the return of Adult Contemporary as could be imagined, and is likely to have solid catalog value, even if the band appears fairly destined to be largely forgotten when it comes time to speak of the greatest acts of their era. Although the band had a friend in Billboard’s Fred Bronson, who cheered on their single “Affirmation” even though it only got to about #98 or something on the charts, the band ultimately could not get along with itself, and as a result it crashed and burned and flamed out. For all of our gifts and talents, if we cannot communicate well or relate well to others, our success will be greatly hindered. It behooves us to address such matters before we become famous and well-known, and before our weaknesses and shortcomings wreck our ambitions and hopes and plans.
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