Op-ed: It’s totally fine if Senses Fail want to change their old song lyrics

Senses Fail are letting a new light find an old one in 2019 with a re-recording of their first EP.

Come 2019, Senses Fail have made plans to drop a re-recorded version of their first EP, 2002’s ‘From The Depths Of Dreams‘ (later re-issued in 2003 via Drive-Thru Records). Through that announcement earlier this month, there were some interesting tid-bits revealed about the band’s original ECA Records debut. Great little shinfo, like how the EP’s original artwork was apparently never digitised and was supposedly bought off of a homeless man. Now, I’m not sure if that’s totally true or if the band are just having us all on, but I really do hope it’s factual.

Across the band’s Twitter mentions and replies, you’ll see many fans just really excited to hear these re-vamped takes on older material that they loved in their youth; getting newer versions from the now older, better-versed band themselves breathe life into past material that no longer gets performed live. It’s also just really fucking cool to see the band’s former drummer, the exceptionally tight Dan Trapp, return to lay down his drum parts for this updated 2.0 version of their first EP. (As a quick side-note, the band may also be remixing 2010’s ‘The Fire as well. I’d prefer a vinyl reprint, personally). Despite many defending the band’s right to do this – it’s their music so it’s their call being the thought process there – you’ll also find some fans and users irrationally annoyed that this is even happening. Just take a scroll back through the band’s replies, wowee.

So what exactly is being changed here with this re-recording other than tighter instrumentals and a better recording quality? What sweeping updates are being made that are apparently so egregious? Well, frontman and only original member, JamesBuddy” Nielsen, now a 34-year-old married man with a young daughter, no longer feels comfortable having old songs of theirs containing derogatory words like ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’. Oh… that’s it? Talk about these people making mountains out of molehills!

The first of the two songs in question that are getting this edit are the EP’s popular B-side, ‘Bastard Son‘, which will have “bitch” taken out of the chorus. The other track is ‘Handguns and Second Chances‘, which will have “whore” removed from the line: “In wanting life to end/That I am not another stupid/Little teenage fucking whore“. In Buddy’s own words, him having to sing that just makes him feel like a “loser” at his current age. I also think it’s safe to say that ‘187‘, which was retired from their live shows back in 2013, may get some re-wordings too. As I don’t think adult Buddy wants to necessarily sing and scream about killing an old ex-girlfriend of his.

Before we go any further, however, if you’re thinking Senses Fail are cherry-picking their material, you’re wrong. As Buddy feels strongly that this same ideal applies to other releases, namely their 2004 debut LP and fan-favourite, ‘Let It Enfold You‘, especially songs like ‘You’re Cute When You Scream‘ and ‘Lady In A Blue Dress‘, among certain others. But as he’s stated, the band won’t be re-recording that album’s material due to the drastic efforts in changes that they’d wish to make, along with all of the added time and money that’d be involved. (Plus, me thinks there may be some added legality as to why they cannot re-rerecord said album, but that’s just speculation on my part).

On their Twitter during all of this, Buddy definitely went into full-on defence mode about this subject. Now, some may say that him doing so was lame or “soft”, but it’s nowhere near as cringey as the people getting upset over the slight lyrical changes being made for this re-recorded EP.

I’ve seen disgruntled fans label this approach as some kind of revisionist history, which is hilarious and also incorrect. If Buddy and the band were completely re-working the original lyrical content and the initial themes of these early-day Senses Fail songs, then I’d agree with these critics. If the band were also removing every single online version of the original EP from platforms like Apple MusicDeezerSpotify, and even YouTube, then I’d agree with these detractors that they’re trying to re-write their own history. But that’s not even remotely close to what the band have shared about doing with said upcoming re-recorded release. Buddy ain’t coming into your home and breaking old ripped Senses Fail CDs nor is he wiping your hard drives of illegally downloaded MP3’s either. All of the original digital versions of their EP are staying up in their usual spots. Besides, the band also recently shared that they couldn’t take them down even if they wanted to.

From my perspective, the people being actually bothered by this are individuals who usually label such changes as being “SJW” or “PC”; happily saying that others are getting triggered when they themselves just got their knickers in a bind because a singer from a band they like is removing ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’ from songs released over 16 years ago. The kind of people who truly believe that simply because it’s the current year, things must change when that was never Buddy’s reasoning at all for these lyrical edits. Get a grip, people. The irony is incredible.

If your emotional connection with those songs is purely based on a young, angry James Nielsen saying ‘bitch’ or ‘whore’ in some old, angsty teenage lyrics of his, that says more about you than anything else. Also, for the people in the back, just because something is “emotional” doesn’t mean it’s inherently good, full of substance, and it doesn’t mean that’s not worth later changing or reflecting upon.

Of course, that’s just the surface level issue here. The real argument is the nature of words, their power, and their meanings. However, the crowd who trots out the “it’s just a word” argument rarely ever hold water because more often than not, the people who use that argument don’t care for the actual context or weight of said words. Let alone any history that may be involved nor the slightest consideration of anybody else other than themselves. And why would they? These words – whether ‘bitch’, ‘whore’ or any other slur or demeaning term – don’t affect them, so why does it matter, right? RIGHT!?

This whole matter also speaks to how shitty a portion of Senses Fail’s fanbase can be. Remember when Senses Fail went on Audiotree back in 2013 to perform some of the best cuts from ‘Renacer‘ and they copped shit for changing up their sound and for not being “emo” anymore? I certainly remember and it was frustrating back then too. While said performance isn’t the best live set the band has put on, nor the best Audiotree session around, it was still good. But oh no, they didn’t play any old songs, so it automatically contained zero merit. Kindly fuck off into the sun with that logic.

Since 2008’s ‘Life Is Not Waiting A Room‘ and ‘The Fire‘ (both solid yet sadly underrated records by many for some stupid reason), I’ve heard many comments IRL and seen countless more on social media over the years about how their later releases aren’t as good as their early stuff. Sure, ‘Let It Enfold You‘ is a good record, both now and by the standards of 2004 when it was first released, but it absolutely isn’t high-art. The very same goes for ‘From The Depths Of Dreams‘. These aren’t period-pieces; their just decent, early 2000’s post-hardcore/screamo releases with some sicks riffs and some pretty cool vocal hooks, dated and pissed-off teenage lyricism included.

Of course, lyric changing after the fact isn’t anything new and Senses Fail won’t be the last band to do it. For one, Jay-Z actually does this live sometimes. English folk-artist and all-round legend Frank Turner changes the name’s of countries and cities mentioned in his songs to fit the place he and his backing band, The Sleeping Souls, are currently performing at. And even rising folk-indie star Julien Baker changes lyrics when she performs Turn Out The Lights‘ live; sometimes changing “I’d never do it, but it’s not a joke” to “maybe I’d do it, but it’s not a joke“. Just for that added raw, emotional punch. Because Christ knows that I didn’t need my heart broken harder by her soulful music.

There’s two other key examples of bands addressing “problematic” lyrical content in their songs that they no longer agree with; songs that these two artists no longer wish to perform live due to not agreeing with the content. One comes from pop-punk and the other from deathcore; Paramore and Thy Art Is Murder.

Starting with the former, Paramore retired ‘Misery Business‘ from their live shows earlier this year due to Hayley Williams feeling that it was time to put it to bed; “We feel like it’s time to move away from it for a little while.” Namely due of the lyric, “Once a whore, you’re nothing more/I’m sorry that’ll never change”, no longer aligning with her current personal beliefs about women and feminism; she feeling it was unnecessarily demeaning to a young woman that she once knew in high school. And hey, if that means ‘Anklebiters‘ can get more air-time live, then I’m all for it!

As for the latter deathcore track, Thy Art’s frontman CJ McMahon addressed they’d no longer be playing ‘Whore To A Chainsaw‘ live because: “That song was written by a pissed off individual”. As a grown man with a young daughter, CJ, as well as the rest of the Australian extreme metal act, just don’t feel comfortable with it. Just like Senses Fail and Paramore, that’s more than fine; they are all well within their right to do and say so about their music. (And to be fair, TAIM have way better tracks that they could perform instead, like ‘Deliver Us To Evil‘ or ‘They Will Know Another‘).

Nowadays, with how artists as people exist on social media, the old way of thinking that you’re just giving your money in exchange for a musical product is no longer how things work. It’s just not that black and white anymore. It’s now more direct and personal with these relationships and exchanges. I feel those that are annoyed at Senses Fail for changing these old lyrics on this re-recorded EP still believe that because they’ve spent money on the band – that their support helped make the band popular – they’re entitled to said songs staying as is forever. Which is just so fuckin’ entitled, to say the very least. Just because you liked something an artist did, or simply because you spent money on a release or live show of theirs once, doesn’t suddenly mean that artist is now at your every beck and call.

I personally won’t be losing any sleep over a couple out-dated lines being taken out of some old Senses Fail tracks – as much as I do love this band’s music, old and new. Namely because it’s Buddy’s and Senses Fail’s music and art at the end of the day. It’s no one else’s to change or mess with but theirs. Other than some man-babies dying on weird hills around this topic, what does it really matter if lyrics to these new versions of ‘Bastard Son‘ and ‘Handguns…‘ won’t contain certain language against women? Again, if that’s what’s upsetting you, you probably have some other issues you need to work out and are hiding behind the freedom to use certain words as a shitty excuse.

Also, let’s be real, ‘Bastard Son‘ and ‘Handguns…‘ aren’t even close to being in the upper echelon of the best Senses Fail songs, let alone found in any secondary tiers. I’ve probably heard either track at least three times in my whole life, and the most recent third listens was while writing this article! I don’t even think the band has played this pair live in god knows how years too. Plus, we all know that the holy trinity of their first EP is: ‘Steven‘, ‘Bloody Romance‘, and ‘187‘. Don’t even pretend.

Ever since the release of 2015’s fantastic ‘Pull The Thorns From Your Heart‘ LP, this band have really gone through a re-kindling stage. People genuinely care about them again, and that’s so great to see! The response to 2018’s ‘If There Is Light, It Will Find You‘, and the incredibly personal sharings Buddy divulged in it about himself and the birth of his daughter (which has impacted his life greatly), have all been insanely positive too. The guy has been on a real turn-around these last few years, all really showing after his brave and honest tell-all interview with Ray Harkins’ 100 Words Or Less podcast regarding his past demons and his sexuality back in 2014. Buddy’s tried to turn over a new leaf in his life, and this lyric changing is simply just the next step in that growth. I’ve been following Senses Fail since 2008, and I’m just so glad to see him happy in his life; to just be in a really good spot. As a fan and as another human being. Because the music that he’s been a part of over the years made my life that much more easier to get through. While I’m endlessly thankful for that, it’s still their art in a way – not mine. I internalised so much of their music because it really spoke to me, but that doesn’t suddenly mean I have full ownership of it or that I’m owed anything.

Lastly, some would like to think that Buddy and the band aren’t owning up to their past by changing around two words. However, this re-recording and lyric editing even happening in the first place speaks otherwise! They are addressing it and are also making peace with it in some way too. There are so many bands from that early 2000’s alternative/emo/post-hardcore scene that I and many others would love to see re-record their earlier releases; filled with modern touches of recent works and their current personal beliefs. Yet it’s a rare thing to happen, and Senses Fail giving new legs to their debut EP and keeping it in-line with Buddy’s current personality isn’t bad. In fact, I feel it should be welcomed by all fans. As this is a new light finally finding an old one.

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