“Cold Arms“ is a song of pain and sorrow, which isn’t anything new to Wilder Mind but this song asks a tough question and shows what may be the difficult-to-live-with wrong answer. Marcus Mumford and the band play this song slowly and mournfully, a strummed electric guitar ringing out just enough melody to highlight the sadness of what is being said. “Cold Arms” goes beyond the other songs on the album in its attempt to be truly honest and vulnerable with its audience.
An interesting aspect of “Cold Arms” is the ease with which one can sing along with it, and doing so, oddly enough, feels confessional and cleansing. The lyrics are about a man who told a woman he loved her without meaning it. His words have brought them together, but the words were empty, so the two end the song together in a bad situation, not really loving each other and simply keeping up a ruse they both know is false.
The song’s story begins in the midst of chaos. Mumford sings, “Weekend wreckers take the strains / With abandon in their eyes.” This seems to be a reference to wild partying happening in the streets below Mumford and his lover, perhaps on a Friday, while those two are “in [their] bedroom.” They’re “bloodshot and beat,” suggesting either that they retired from the partying themselves or that they’ve been drinking alcohol or crying. The word “beat” could refer to them having had sex or having argued-both highly emotional activities. Whatever the activity, it’s left them feeling “alive,” a liveliness likely brought about by pain.
Mumford begins his confession in the chorus, a confession that suggests the feeling of being alive may not be enough for him to feel love for her. He sings, “And I know what’s on your mind / God knows I put it there.” Mumford doesn’t make clear what this thing is, and the meaning of the song seems to revolve around it. A likely guess is that he told the woman that he loved her.
Whatever he said, he didn’t completely mean it or now, at least, wishes to take it back. He sings, “But if I took it back / Well you’d be nowhere / You’d be nowhere again.” Apparently, he can take it back, so what he said either wasn’t true or wasn’t completely accurate. Unfortunately, he’s afraid of changing it because doing so will leave this girl “nowhere again,” and he doesn’t want to hurt her. Perhaps when he told her that he loved her, he took her away somewhere and pulled her up out of a bad situation, whether emotional or physical in nature. And a refutation of love may be something that she’s experienced before and been hurt by.
In the second verse, he sings, “Now look at you all torn up / I left you waiting to bleed.” She’s already damaged and vulnerable. She’s been here before and knows what he’s about to say because she’s had it said to her before. But Mumford changes his mind: “I guess the truth works two ways.” He knows the truth can set a person free and it can also hurt a person, or, in this case, send the girl back to the place she was. In the second line, Mumford concludes that “[m]aybe the truth’s not what we need.” He decides to suppress the truth.
They stay together that night, her lying in his “cold arms.” Their feelings of being “alive” have melted away, leaving them feeling more “dead” than anything else. She doesn’t “sleep” and her “fear beats,” and he has gone cold. But despite all of this, as Mumford sings, “In my cold arms / You stay.” No matter how terrible the situation, she wants the little comfort Mumford can provide, and he’s will to give it to avoid hurting her, leaving them both sad and alone, living under the pretenses of an imaginary love.
The story told in this song demonstrates a sharp contrast between death and life. The song begins with the two feeling “alive” amidst a world of chaos and “abandon.” But by the chorus, they’ve both become thoughtful, Mumford thinking about what he’s caused this girl to believe (or at least said to her-she doesn’t seem to believe these sorts of things anymore) and the girl thinking that she’s about to be let down again. She’s “waiting to bleed” knowing that if this relationship goes as others have, she’ll soon be cast aside.
But Mumford subverts the normal progression; he hides the truth and lets the girl stay. Because she hasn’t been told to leave, she doesn’t. She and Mumford continue spending the night together, unfulfilled and uncertain of what will happen.
Even though Mumford tries to not hurt her, she’s still not able to find rest in his arms, and she’s still afraid. Would the right decision have been to tell the truth and to let her go?
What do you think “Cold Arms” is about? Was Mumford’s decision right? And the BIG question: What do you think Mumford said to the woman??? I really do need help on this one.
If you’d like to continue listening to “Cold Arms” or Wilder Mind, you can find them both on Amazon. And you can continue to get alerts about new posts through Twitter, through Facebook, and here on the blog. Thanks for reading!
Explanations for other songs on Wilder Mind: