I’m the kind of person who endorses a deep commitment
Getting comfy, getting perfect is what I live for
But a look, and then a smell of perfume
It’s like I’m down on the floor, and I don’t know what I’m in for
Conversation has a time and place in the interaction
Of a lover and a mate, but the time of talking
Using symbols, using words can be likened to a deep sea diver
Who is swimming with a raincoat
Australian duo Savage Garden stormed onto the pop scene in mid-1996 with “I Want You,” a peppy single with rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness lyrics about infatuation. Though they seemed to come out of nowhere, vocalist Darren Hayes and keyboardist/guitarist Daniel Jones had been making music together for years, originally as members of a cover band. Despite enormous success until their breakup in 2001, Savage Garden is often forgotten when examining the musical landscape of the 1990s… which is a shame, if you ask me.
As their biggest hits in the US were love songs, one may forget that much of Savage Garden’s music is decidedly dark, especially on their eponymous debut. Major themes on Savage Garden include depression (“To the Moon and Back,” “Santa Monica”) and troubled or abusive relationships (“Tears of Pearls,” “Break Me Shake Me,” “A Thousand Words”). As might be expected from a group named after an Anne Rice quote—”The mind of each man is a savage garden”—the gothic subculture was a major influence musically and aesthetically; the liner notes featured artwork from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The stunning song “Mine” was axed from the US release for its reference to “crosses and crucifixes” and replaced by a cute track about how people shouldn’t break promises. Still, there’s no real losing with Savage Garden, because regardless of how bright or dreary each song is, they share an essential quality: terrific, poetic songwriting.
Video of Savage Garden performing in concert, set to the track “Tears of Pearls.” Lyrics here.
The record sold over 18 million worldwide, with the ballad “Truly Madly Deeply” hitting number one in Canada and the US as well as Australia. In the interim between albums , a number of Savage Garden’s non-album tracks were released to appease antsy fans, and many were later featured on the compilation Truly Madly Completely: The Best of Savage Garden.
1999 saw the release of the sophomore effort Affirmation, which also sold over 13 million copies. As indicated by the title, Affirmation has a tone of optimism, though it addresses many of the same issues as Savage Garden. Uncomfortable relationships are viewed with hope (“Hold Me,” “The Best Thing”), and depressed listeners are encouraged to endure and not end their lives (“You Can Still Be Free,” “Crash and Burn”). In addition to the beautiful, high-charting slow song “I Knew I Loved You,” memorable tracks from Affirmation include “Two Beds and a Coffee Machine,” the most sobering song about domestic violence I have ever heard, and “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” a musically stripped-down narrative of trying to establish a friendship with one’s ex-spouse.
Hayes and Jones still weren’t afraid to get dark, though, or to rock out, as demonstrated in Hayes’ personal favorite Savage Garden song, “Gunning Down Romance”:
Fan video of pictures of Savage Garden and the lyrics to “Gunning Down Romance.”
After touring for Affirmation in 2000, the duo went on hiatus; instrumentalist Daniel Jones rarely gave interviews and is said to have been unhappy with the media attention, and Darren Hayes was planning the solo album that eventually became Spin. Their official breakup was announced in late 2001. Jones went on to start the production company Meridien Musik while Hayes continued to grow as a major Aussie pop star. His fifth solo album, Secret Codes and Battleships, is slated for an October release this year.
Hayes has also been an advocate for QUILTBAG rights since he publicly came out in July 2006 (just days before Lance Bass), announcing that he had married his British partner, Richard Cullen. Hayes’ music, with and apart from Savage Garden, has always been refreshingly light on the heteronormative trappings that mark much of the pop landscape. For example, while many of Savage Garden’s songs are about romantic relationships, almost all avoid gendered terms.
So, with ’90s nostalgia at its peak, are we likely to see a reunion? Sadly, no: Hayes says he’d “only do it if it cured cancer.” Okay, then. In the meantime, I’ll keep jamming to Savage Garden’s vastly underrated two records and hoping that other music fans rediscover them as well.