While you may begin listening to the fifth track on Wilder Mind wondering whether or not it’s sponsored by tobacco companies, you’ll soon find out that the cryptic title “Just Smoke” has a bit more depth and a little bit more pain associated with it than you’d have expected. Additionally, a rousing chorus filled with harmonies, major chords, and powerful synth propel this song to a level of excitement not yet heard on this album.
The song is fairly complicated, despite the lyrics being largely literal, but the message is a valuable and worthwhile perspective on a broken relationship. Mumford sings about his misplaced faith in young love and how it wasn’t strong enough for him. The song is the story of the heart-breaking process of ending a relationship built on young love.
This song is the writer’s confession to not being strong enough to love a specific woman. Mumford sings about his own weakness to demonstrate the reasons he can’t take care of her. The song is sad, honest, and blunt, but even though he tries to make a clean break, he shows that he may still love her and want to come back to the relationship.
In verse 1, Mumford is trying to get over this girl. He wants to “lift [her] from [his] mind”; he wants to forget her. He’s “not ready. [He’s] not strong enough / To cradle the weight of your love.” In the same way one lays a baby in a cradle, Mumford does not feel “strong enough” to protect and to care for this girl’s young love for him.
He tells her, “Just take a minute. Take a breath.” He’s afraid of either of them rushing into it, and he feels too old and tired to continued on. But his words suggest that he wants her to rest together with him, not apart from him: “Lay down your head on my sunken chest.” His chest being sunken suggests he is weak or at least feels old. The “flicker” he sees then draws a connection between the relationship and a fire. Unfortunately, all that’s left of it is “just smoke,” suggesting that while something almost caught on fire, their young love ultimately will not last further into adulthood. He continues singing: “But as you left I was calling your name at the night.” He didn’t think the relationship would work, so she left, and now he regrets her leaving.
In the first chorus, he sings that he thought the relationship was over. He repeats twice that he believed “young love would keep us young,” suggesting either that he’s afraid of staying young and not maturing or that he had thought that by being in love, they wouldn’t age in spirit, an assumption that was incorrect. Either way, his “sunken chest” shows he doesn’t have the energy or love to continue this relationship.
In verse 2, Mumford sees that he hurt her, but he’s removed and distant from her now. He sees her “whimper with no sound,” so perhaps she is surprised by his ending of the relationship. But the “words of peace” that he opens his “mouth to breath” do no good, and she doesn’t respond. This silence is devastating and gives “nothing back to [him].”
Since the “flame” with this woman is gone, he labels himself as merely a “shadow” of it. Though his words cannot reach her, he leans “down to kiss [her] and then erased [his] name.” Thus, he still does feel affection for her, but he decides to release his love for her and fades into a “whisper on the wind,” an image which is suggestive of the smoke he mentions earlier. And it’s a difficult decision, but one he feels the need to make.
His “hands are shaking from holding so tight for so long.” He seems to have made this decision under intense pressure and stress, but he simply can’t continue on. In the bridge, he sings about how they have nothing left together: “[t]he flame burnt out in our empty hands.” But he doesn’t blame her. He sings that “it’s got nothing to do with you.” He knows that he’s the one leaving, and he claims that it’s because of his own weaknesses. Young love has not kept him young, and he feels he has failed, but he must move on.
In the final repetition of the chorus, Mumford asks, “Why do I keep falling?” Is something that he did what causes the relationship to not work? Is the writer cheating on his girlfriend? Did he not put in the energy he needed to give? Was it his fault? If so, then this line refers to his own failures in this and previous relationships.
Or, perhaps, is this line a question of why he keeps falling in love with this one girl even though he wants to let her go? This interpretation is especially difficult to hear when coupled with the line “I thought we were done.” He ended the relationship but keeps finding himself drawn back to her, suggesting that he knows he made a mistake and that he is confused, doesn’t know what to do, and still is left without her.
The title, “Just Smoke,” then, refers to the fact that smoke is all that Mumford and the girl have left of the relationship. Mumford leaves the song’s melancholy and depressing notes to ring in listener’s ears as they and Mumford consider the flame of a relationship that has been lost and which leaves only smoke in its wake.
What do you think this song means? Come up with your ideas and let me know in the comments below. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.
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Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind:
- Tompkins Square Park
- The Wolf
- Wilder Mind
- Just Smoke
- Snake Eyes
- Broad-Shouldered Beasts
- Cold Arms
- Only Love
- Hot Gates