Ghost Tracks: WHAT’S SHE LIKE?
FEATURE – Ghost Tracks is BACK! Series 2 of our 10-part special returns where we take a fun look back at some of the forgotten and rarely ever mentioned Roxette songs from their incredible 30 year history.
Song: What’s She Like?
Album: Crash! Boom! Bang!
Where to begin? What an awesome song. Such power. Such drama. Such a cool melody. It’s one of those songs that could be covered today and it would sound like a hit. Seriously, with a 2015 production and some new, rocking blood pumped into it, this could easily be a big hit. I always imagined a modern emo-rock sound, or someone like P!nk covering a track like this.
The bare bones of this song are so strong and this is evident by Per’s acoustic version made available on The Per Gessle Archives. Without all the fancy production, the song still sounds so cool with just Per and a guitar – and that’s testament to the strength of this beautiful melody.
Let’s talk about this song’s particular strength: the lyrics! The lyrics are quite confronting for a Roxette ballad. Traditionally in Roxette ballads, the themes of heartbreak and lost romance are wrapped up in neat phrases that more or less intimate pain in a palatable fashion moreso than ripping your soul out. Such lines are found in plenty of Roxette classics “I see the sky it’s so beautiful and blue” – “and it’s a hard winter’s day” – “when I reach out there’s nothing to find” – they all smell of despair but they’re not exactly hard hitting, painful lyrics. Now, let’s compare it with the lyrics from this current Ghost Track. “What’s She Like… when she whispers in your ear that she’s in love… do you feel the same way you did when it was me… when you’re making love and stars are in her eyes…” – think back to your last break up and imagine for one moment confronting your ex-partner and asking these questions? These are the questions you want to ask in that jealous-driven, heat of the moment, but you don’t really want to know. It’s unhealthy to know what your ex’s new lover is actually like – best not think about it, best not to imagine it and certainly best not to ask! But that’s the whole essence of this song as stated in the title “What’s She Like?”. It’s utterly sad to hear that the character is so heartbroken that she’s wanting to find out these uncomfortable details. The character is at her lowest ebb – if her friends were around her, they’d advise her not to ask these questions for fear of hearing an uncomfortable truth – in fact, her friends would probably advise her that “hey, life will go on, time will make sure I get over you”.
Again, just imagine looking your ex in the eye and being so bold with these questions? That’s what makes this ballad so damn harrowing. “Oh, I’ve been holding on for far too long” – a self admission that the character is wallowing in pain and needs to try to move on.
Yes, Roxette have recorded dozens of “heartbreak” songs, in fact their biggest commercial hit is titled “It Must Have Been Love” – but the difference with “What’s She Like?” and what exactly is it that makes it so poignant compared to a “standard” ballad is just how blunt the whole tone is. There is no mystery. No subtlety. It’s just a dagger through the heart seeking out a cold, heartbreaking truth – jealousy, self pity wrapped in a desperate curiosity. Pretty intense for a traditional sounding Roxette ballad.
The Crash! era was an interesting phase for Roxette, unfortunately support from the USA tumbled. The traditional Top 40 scene went through a dramatic shift as grunge took over and Roxette’s position started to slip. There’s no doubt that following up Joyride with insane sales was always going to be a tough ask but I wonder whether the right singles were picked? Both this track and “I’m Sorry” sounded far more commercial than say, “Vulnerable”, for instance and I do wonder whether “What’s She Like?” was ever in contention as one of the five singles off the album?
Strangely enough, the song was never played live as part of the Crash! Boom! Bang! Tour – hearing it live today would be a thrill, especially now that Marie sings in a slightly lower key, it could really add some more atmosphere to this moody ballad. But of course, after hearing Per’s solo version, even if they performed this on the XXX Tour and gave it a “Things Will Never Be The Same” treatment, it would be a dream come true.
Also, can we talk about the man in the glasses with the funny hats? Clarence, that is. Roxette’s pop gems have always been about those little touches, those little elements – so how about when Clarence hits those keys at 1:22 “when you’re making love and stars are in her eyes” and Mr Öfwerman makes the keyboard twinkle like stars in the night sky! Stars in her eyes and Clarence makes you feel and visualize those stars with those lovely, delicate little touches that make Roxette songs oh so special.
Now, do we like the middle eight? “I never knew, I could love somebody…”? Is it too loud for the song? Does it come out of nowhere? Did the song need it? I don’t know? Sometimes I love that climax and then sometimes I think it’s too much? All of a sudden this pounding piano and blaring guitars kick in, it’s definitely a wake up call – what are your thoughts? Does it disrupt the flow? Or does it perfectly capture the swell in emotion that the song evokes?
Here’s what Per Gessle had to say about “What’s She Like?” in his book Songs, Sketches and Reflections: “One of my favorite Roxette tracks. Written for Marie to sing, in December 1992, with the Crash! Boom! Bang! album in sight. It’s always a challenge to try and write lyrics from a girl’s perspective”
Never played live. Never released as a B-side. Never a single. Didn’t even make the RoxBox… go figure! Definitely one of Roxette’s overlooked tracks, is it time to shine a light on this beautiful ballad again?
“…The yellow moon or the deep blue of the sea?”
Thoughts from The Daily Roxette crew:
Thomas: This is scary good. The lyrics even hurt me! So sad and so powerful. The demo, however, the not-released-but-available-out-there, is horrible.
Paul: This is one of my favorite Roxette songs. Ever. Have always thought of it as a sort of sibling to (Do You Get) Excited? Think about it – both songs build up to a big ending, both songs are track 10 on an album, (DYG)E ?is like the start of the relationship and WSL? is very much the end of a relationship. And Stevo, that middle 8 is most definitely needed – the ‘nothing hurts you like the truth’ line is heartbreaking!