In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, as we regret the New Year’s resolutions we’ve already cast aside, we’re picking our favorite songs about broken promises.
The general concept of promises is great, but as Fugazi notes, actual “promises are shit.” That’s the basic message of “Promises,” from the group’s excellent 1989 EP Margin Walker. Singer and guitarist Ian MacKaye begins the song singing about how “Words and expressions / All these confessions / Of where we stand / How I see you / And you see me” are essentially meaningless. Promises are super and everything, but they don’t mean shit if there’s nothing but words there to back them up. Moreover, if you’re a committed significant other, friend, worker, brother, sister, etc., then you don’t need to go into absolutes to be loyal and to be there for someone. As MacKaye sings later in the song, “You will do what you do / I will do what I do / We will do what we do.”
It’s a message that could be perceived as a little bleak, especially set against MacKaye’s blunt and accented expletives, but it’s also a solid one, if you think about it. Promises might sound sweet, but they can be broken with just one word, glance, or stray thought. Stay true to yourself by doing what you want, when you want—keeping others in mind, of course—and you’ll never need to make another promise again.