Released: 20th March 2000
Writers: Darren Hayes / Daniel Jones
Peak position: #14
Chart run: 14-21-28-34-45-57
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 75-58-51-36-33-31-26-24-24-29-34-39-46-47-48-49-58-63-73-87
When the benchmark of quality is so high with an act like Savage Garden, it’s easy to become complacent. Taken at face value, Crash and Burn was yet another expertly crafted ballad from the duo; but there was a really important message behind this one.
Crash and Burn was released as the third single from Savage Garden’s second album, Affirmation, in the UK (it followed the title track as the fourth single in most other territories). The decision to release another ballad after I Knew I Loved You was perhaps driven by the fact that the album had gotten off to a surprisingly slow start here. Despite their debut selling around 900,000 copies and yielding several major airplay hits (if you listened to the radio in the late ‘90s, chances are you’d hear a Savage Garden song before too long), the follow-up debuted at #12 and quickly drifted to the lower half of the top 75. Crash and Burn was an obvious choice in that respect; the duo’s collaboration with Walter Afanasieff – who co-produced Affirmation – helped give their material a sweeping, cinematic flourish and nowhere is it more present than in this song. However, the songwriting also became more honest and internalised. Pop music around this time often sought to protect its audience from things going wrong with rallying cries not to give up and that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. And, if the worst-case scenario happened, the fault was often projected onto others: heartbreak was someone else’s fault. Crash and Burn – however – takes a refreshing approach in acknowledging that sometimes life can seem pretty bleak, but it’s okay, and there is a way back.
Opening with epic, mournful guitar riffs and a pattering electro beat, what’s striking about Crash and Burn is how it takes the theme of mental health – which was rarely spoken about in any context, least of all pop music – and uses it so meaningfully as a foundation for the track. The lyrics take a reasonably familiar starting point: “When you feel all alone, and the world has turned its back on you”, but rather than swivel around and start to offer platitudes, it delves deeper into feelings of isolation and despair: “I know you feel like the walls are closing in on you, it’s hard to find relief and people can be so cold, when darkness is upon your door and you feel like you can’t take anymore”. The production remains brooding; it’s intense without being overwhelming and is a perfect musical metaphor for that delicate balance where Crash and Burn offers shoots of hope without downplaying or invalidating the reality of a mental health crisis.
And that’s really what the song is about. There isn’t any direct reference; neither is one needed because the poetic description of “the monsters in your head” expresses it in a beautifully accurate manner. The song is written with candour; there’s an innate understanding of what it feels like when everything falls apart, and the chorus runs with that notion: “Let me be the one you call, if you jump I’ll break your fall, lift you up and fly away with you into the night; if you need to fall apart, I can mend a broken heart, if you need to crash, then crash and burn you’re not alone”. It’s soaring yet sobering stuff. Crash and Burn is all about survival, letting people know that it’s okay not to be okay and that they aren’t alone. As socially conscious pop music goes, there’s no compromise here; Savage Garden somehow manage to balance rousing blockbuster movie-esque balladry with an underlying moral that doesn’t become trite or cliched.
Of course, while Crash and Burn is masterfully composed, the song would be nothing if it wasn’t delivered in a believable, sensitive way. And that’s where Darren Hayes excels (as if there was ever any doubt). His performance manages to both sell this as a radio-friendly hit single and be involved enough to convey a personal dialogue with the listener, such as the lead up to the final chorus: “Give me a moment please, to tame your wild wild heart…” whichcomes across as an emotional, direct plea. Crash and Burn features some trademark Darren Hayes falsetto (the middle-eight: “’Cos there has always been heartache and pain, and when it’s over you’ll breathe again” is gorgeous) and concludes with a string of ad-libs: “Ooh. You’re not alo-one. No, no. You’re not alo-woah-one. Ooh. You’re not alone. If you need to crash and burn, you’re not alone”, layered atop background vocal runs. Yet, Savage Garden’s inherent musicianship ensures every note is purposeful; nothing is here just for the sake of it, and that helps sell it as a sincere attempt to reach out and help.
The music video commits to the darker theme, which is a bold choice considering the duo’s appeal – from a record label perspective, at least – was built around squeaky-clean, mainstream appeal. It’s set in an environment that resembles the sort of psychiatric hospital you might see in a horror film. Crash and Burn resolutely does not present depression and mental health in a sugar-coated way, as the individual rooms are lined with white brick walls and glass windows, while a murky yellow/green filter creates a washed-out, derelict effect. Inside, some of the lyrics take physical manifestations (the woman screaming at a monster is, at best, unsettling and, at worst, utterly terrifying). But there are also observations about the direction of life and profound warnings around the risk of isolation. Considering this was early 2000 when only around half the population had access to the internet in America (in the UK, it was just above 25%), there’s a forward-thinking awareness around the anonymity of online interactions. Referred to as cyberspace in the video – a fittingly ‘90s buzzword – the recurring theme highlighted is the reduction of face-to-face or two-way communication, expressed through subtitles that appear on-screen and essentially kickstarting (or at least being an early contributor to) a conversation that continues to this day.
The visual editing of Crash and Burn also helps capture some of the intensity of feeling that the song represents, with dynamic camera shifts through a bombardment of images that require constant processing to comprehend. There are people trapped in spiderwebs, colour-changing human chameleons with elastic tongues crawling up a tree, human glow-worms flying around a lightbulb, women with flamingo legs walking around a bathroom. Many of the movements have a time-lapse or stop-motion quality, and the whole thing is incredibly trippy. Yet, it still feels like Savage Garden get it. They aren’t trying to shock or sensationalise; at the centre of the sequences, the duo are a reassuring presence and a part of the world around them in the video. Darren Hayes’s use of sign language reiterates that as much as is possible, Crash and Burn is a song for everyone, no matter who you are or what you’re going through.
In a weird way, it’s almost a testament to how good Savage Garden were at crafting songs like Crash and Burn that this one fared rather modestly. The single peaked at #14 in the UK and #24 in America (with strong airplay on Adult Contemporary and Mainstream radio), so it was still a considerable success. Even if it doesn’t necessarily seem a fair reflection of how good the track is. However, Savage Garden already had three singles – To The Moon and Back, Truly Madly Deeply, and I Knew I Loved You – that were very popular in the same commercial radio domain Crash and Burn would be targeting. So, it’s possible the duo had effectively saturated their own market (an accomplishment in itself). Thus, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Affirmation album fared much better – reaching a new peak in the UK – when the title track was released next, precisely because it did something slightly different. At this stage, it was easy to take the duo for granted because they were so consistent; epic balladry is just what Savage Garden did well. In that sense, Crash and Burn didn’t prove anything we didn’t already know. However, behind the scenes, the clock was already running down. Daniel Jones wanted out of the music industry but agreed to stick out the Affirmation campaign if Darren Hayes would be the face of Savage Garden. It was another year until their final single, but in hindsight, it’s hard not to feel Crash and Burn could have been more heartily embraced given the finite timescale we were on.
Pop music was very good at telling audiences what they wanted to hear, and the halcyon possibilities laid out before us were one of the things that made this era such a ride. But there were also things people needed to hear, whether they knew it or not at the time. And what Savage Garden were trying to say with Crash and Burn remains relevant to this day.