A Tour Guide to Anberlin’s “Cities”

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The Unwinding Cable Car

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Functioning as the album’s second single, this song is the polar opposite of “Godspeed.” It’s reassuring, uplifting; a nice little pat on the back. It was an intriguing choice for a single, though – I think quite a few other songs from the album could’ve had a better shot at making a splash in mainstream music (“Adelaide,” “Hello Alone”), but maybe the band wasn’t aiming for that.

Even though this song isn’t truly at the halfway point of Cities, I think it’s hard not to view it as its centerpiece, as the heart of the album. As you’ll read below, it contains another of the album’s most important themes, and it’s undeniably a beacon of hope amidst a handful of not-so-hopeful numbers. Also, this is a great song (along with “Inevitable”) to truly investigate; there’s a mountain of instrumental magic happening beneath the vocals and lyrics. Do I hear bongo drums and maracas at the very end?

STEPHEN SAYS: “It was about somebody who so looked into the future that they were never content in the present. Never. It was always like something good’s going to happen in the future, but life is not satisfying right this second.  And it was always just such a shock to me; it’s just like, why can’t you live in here and today and now? That’s one of the lines, about prayers that have already come about. Why are you still praying about the future, why are you so worried and concerned that you take this moment for granted? Look at everything that’s happened, count all your blessings. They were so caught up on the future that they never took life today into perspective, and they never studied it.” [2]

“One of the overlapping themes of the record is ‘I’ll lead you in and out of the dark.’ There have to be those moments of solitude, where life hurts, and there’s pain, and there’s suffering, because I think those moments grind us into who we are. Let’s go explore the deeper, darker side of yourself, so that way you can find the hope, you can find the salvation, you can find the life, life in all its beauty. But you have to go through those dark moments.” [2]

“Henri Nouwen once said solitude is the furnace of transformation, and I was just reading Blaise Pascal yesterday, and one of his quotes – I’m going to paraphrase it – but he was saying that there is nothing in life that cannot be figured out with just you and an empty room and a chair. To me, it was just like this person never sat in that chair, they never got away, there was never that furnace for them, it was always the future. So I was trying to encourage them and say, listen, you’re brilliant, you’re great, you’re a wonderful human being, stop looking in the future to figure out that life is so beautiful right in this moment.” [2]

“In [psychologist Carl Jung’s] theory of shadows, he was talking about how you have to explore this dark side for any type of creativity to come about, whether it’s art or music or science or anything, that for you to get stuck in your element, you have to go through these shadows. For me, I know that it’s in those moments and in those darkest times of my life that I found who I really am, what made me me. I would hope that everyone would explore those sides.” [2]

There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss

This one is the most straightforward break-up song on the album, and while it’s not bad by any means (check out that wild keyboard melody), it doesn’t particularly stand out for me. The lyrics of the chorus continue to play on the theme of communication failures.

STEPHEN SAYS: “There was a relationship where I got to see the initial state, the meeting – I was there, I got to see it blossom, got to see the relationship form over years, a beautiful couple, and then I just watched it break down, and then they finally got a divorce, and it killed me.” [2]

“Relationships take time, relationships are about communication, and when the communication stops, then that’s the breakdown of the relationship. And I guess this was just my song based out of grief, just watching this devastating thing happen, and then not only happen once, but happen time and time again, watching other people start to break down.” [2]

On the title: “That’s what I’m saying: I have no idea, there’s no mathematics. There’s not a, ‘well, this is going to work because…,’ or, ‘this is absolutely going to work because they are meant to be, and I know this because….’ You have no idea, you know? You can’t plan that.” [2]