“On Melancholy Hill” is a depressively comforting poem about finding interpersonal comfort when life has beaten you down. The lyrics focus on how we often need to lean on the people we love in our saddest hours, and how relationships can soothe the disappointments of life. In addition, this song manages to touch on the idea that human connection is one of the last real things we have in a modern, “plastic” world.
Damon Albarn wrote this song long before it was actually finalized and released. Little is known about the creative process behind the track, but the intended effect was to produce an emotion before it was to produce a message.
In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these touching lyrics to discover their intended meaning. We’ll also take a look at the story behind the song and the human themes that make it accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s get started!
The lyrics start by setting a modest scene. Up on “melancholy hill,” we’re told, there’s a “plastic tree.” The narrator doesn’t try to explain this tree or the hill; they seem to be metaphoric devices anyway. It should be noted that the use of “plastic” is likely significant since it represents artificiality throughout the album, Plastic Beach.
Instead of fixating on his environment, the narrator asks an unknown companion if she is present with him. He intends to put the focus on their relationship and interaction – not anything else. From this hill, the two can “look out on the day of another dream.” It’s unclear whether this is sarcastic, but it seems likely. After all, it appears that sadness is what brought the two together.
The narrator says, “You can’t get what you want, but you can get me.” Even if the world disappoints, even if the trees are plastic, and even if the hill is melancholy, she can depend on him. Apparently, he trusts that he can depend on her, too. By calling her his “medicine,” he implies that she eases the trials of life.
Since these lyrics are so short, every line counts. “When you’re close to me,” the narrator says, you act as “medicine.” I think the emphasis on proximity is intentional. After all, on the plastic beach that is the modernized world, there are many cheap substitutes for face-to-face interaction.
Verse two orbits its own central theme: Escapism. The narrator imagines going “round the world” in “submarines,” which is an intentionally childish picture. Why does the narrator need this escapism? Because the future is uncertain. This is why he asks, “Does anybody know, love, if we’re looking out on the day of another dream?” He can’t tell if it is a dream or a nightmare, so he seeks to escape with his other half.
The next line describes a “manatee” that sits on Melancholy Hill. It’s uncertain what this means. On one hand, a dead manatee is depicted in the song’s music video that eventually gets thrown into the sea. However, I don’t know if this was the original vision. What we do know is that this “manatee” is “waiting for the day” that the narrator will be close to his love again.
Given the themes in the rest of Plastic Beach, I think the manatee may represent the spirit of nature. It watches and waits for us to connect to real, non-plastic experiences. Human connection is one of these experiences, which may be why nature is excited to see us do it. Even though we may kill manatees with our plastic beaches at times, we’re still being guarded by nature. On the other hand, it could just be an extension of the submarine vision.
At this point, the song becomes instrumental. In summary, “On Melancholy Hill” is about holding on to the comforting presence of other people in sad times. The track’s perfect vibe and this bittersweet message are surely a huge part of the song’s success.
Not much information has been made available about the creative process behind this track. Even the Gorillaz fandom page could scarcely gather together any facts. What can be known is that the song predates its release by a good bit of time.
Damon Albarn originally came up with the tune during the making of The Good, The Bad, and The Queen. You can see that for yourself at this link. According to Gorillaz though, the story and message are less important than the feeling.
In one interview, Murdoc (a fictional band member) claimed that the inspiration for Melancholy Hill is a “feeling… you get in your soul sometimes, like someone let your tires out.” He went on to describe the track as a “genuine pop moment” for the album. In other words, a respite from the more intense tracks.
Apparently, the world appreciated the result. “On Melancholy Hill” is a certified gold single in the UK and Denmark, having sold millions of copies internationally. It’s also been featured in plenty of media, such as Life is Strange 2, The Vampire Diaries, and more. Critically and commercially, it can only be considered a success.
The next time you play this soothing tune, let these pieces of background information make it even more special for you!