The Infinite Jukebox: Lush’s ‘Ciao!’

By far the most common subject of pop and rock songs is love. Love that lifts, love that hurts, love that frustrates and, to quote my recent Warren Zevon essay, love that brings heartbreak. Ah, the break-up song, in all its myriad forms. This, my friends, is a break-up song. But it might not be quite what you’re expecting.
Given that, by the early Nineties, I was drifting away from listening to contemporary music, I’m not sure where or how I came across the term ‘shoegazing music’. I’d stopped listening to John Peel, I’d stopped buying the New Musical Express, I’d given up on Top of the Pops, I could barely recognise a Radio 1 DJ’s name, let alone their voice. But I knew the term if I had my own impression of what it sounded like.
Lush, consisting of guitarist/singer Miki Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson, plus a male rhythm section, had been a shoegazing band but, for their third and final album in 1996, made the leap towards Britpop. And they invited Jarvis Cocker to duet with Berenyi on one of the latter’s songs on the album.
Three singles were released off the album, all of them Top 30 hits but no higher. I don’t believe I heard any of them, but I heard that song with Jarvis Cocker, the one called ‘Ciao!’, and loved it, and I still can’t understand why that was never issued in its own right.
The idea of the song is simple but genius. Berenyi and Cocker are a couple who are splitting up, have split up, acrimoniously. Maybe they were married, certainly they lived together, and from the lyrics, though it’s never said, it’s obvious that they were passionately committed to each other, deeply involved and that when it went pear-shaped, it went pear-shaped in a very big way. Only love can spawn hatred like this.
From the very first line, the contrast in Berenyi’s and Cocker’s voices are perfect. She’s full of sarcasm and spitting fury, he’s the deadpan Jarvis we know and love, the most infuriating response to her energy and sense of resentment. Oh, I’ve been happy, they duet on the first verse, since I walked away, I never thought that I could feel as great as I do today, cos you were nothing but a big mistake and life is wonderful now that I’m rid of you.
Ok, right we get the picture, and if we didn’t, here’s Jarvis to explain a bit more, about how he must have been crazy to think he was in love with her, telling her to go to Hell, because that’s where she took him, and Miki responds with claims of how brilliant her life is, a non-stop party since she flew the coop, can’t believe that she fell for a loser like you.
You can hear it behind the words, the absolute desire to prove that each of their lives are better alone, are better than yours, you couldn’t possibly have a good life because of who you are. There’s a split verse, two lines each, bouncing blame back and forth.
The music’s unexceptional, you might almost call it functional, because this song’s about the words, and the backing only has to frame it, a brash, brisk acoustic guitar, a metronomic beat, a well-mixed bass. There’s a brief melody played on a melodica that resurfaces in the brief instrumental break and at the end of the song, and a curious middle eight where Berenyi sings in the background about how she bets Cocker still misses her and he’ll never get a girl like her again, whilst he talks through a mini-fantasia about her sitting at home in the kitchen with the curtains drawn and eating meagre meals.
Oh, but this is glorious! The invective, and the two singers’ respective approaches to delivering their lines is heartfelt and vicious, but at the same time it’s sufficiently OTT that you can’t help the feeling that both of them are trying to convince two people that they’re telling nothing but the unvarnished truth, and themselves is one of that audience.
It gets better in the second half because the pair are desperate to let the other know that their life is so much better, and especially when it comes to love, romance and, well actually, just sex. He’s met a girl who’s wonderful, really beautiful, dedicated to making him happy (without any thought of her own wishes and needs), in fact she’s fifty times the person his ex will ever be. Good luck mister, she replies, in individual words delivered through gritted teeth, she’s got it coming at her from all angles because it’ll hurt him more to know that not just every guy wants to get into her knickers but that she’s going to let them. A million guys lining up for her, her life is ecstacy, if nothing else from all those orgasms she’s going to be getting.
To end the song, Berenyi and Cocker duet again on the first verse, with a couple of minor changes, calling each other a waste of space, and ending by saying that ‘I’m over you’.
Do you believe them? I half and half do. The anger is unmistakable, even if it’s so desperately exaggerated. They’re taking their disappointment out on each other, in a near cartoon manner, but the true sadness in the song is not that what was good love has gone so bad but that the intensity of their strikes at each other are serving to ensure that the last and deepest feelings that might, in another way, be the basis for reconciliation, are being stamped out, washed out and thrown out.
There will be no Wait Till Tomorrow for this pair, no matter how much it might have been best for them. They have only themselves to blame.

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