How Glass Animals’ ‘Agnes’ Brings the Rawness of Loss to Life

When a friend sent a link to the song ‘Agnes’ by Glass Animals and urged me to read the video description before I jumped in, I did.

The description talks about a human centrifuge, and what someone would experience inside it. 

I pressed play, not knowing I was about to be hit by a wall of emotion – familiar, strange and incredibly complex all at the same time. 

Agnes just stop and think a minute
Why don’t you light that cigarette and
Calm down now stop and breathe a second
Go back to the very beginning

Can’t you see what was different then?
You were just popping Percocet
Maybe just four a week at best
Maybe a smoke to clear the head

A soft melody combines with the sounds of a synthesiser, and from the very beginning, even though the overall mood seems cosy and comfortable, there’s a feeling of dread. 

Dave Bayley’s first verse is a straightforward attempt to offer help; Agnes is a troubled drug addict. As Bayley wraps up the first verse, the music starts to build into something even more dark and ominous. All background sounds rise in sync, and you feel the approaching of the storm.

Your head is so numb
That nervous breath you try to hide
Between the motions
That trembling tender little sigh

And so it goes
A choking rose back
To be reborn
I want to hold you like you’re mine

Also read: While You Lasted

In the second verse, Bayley talks about how he had begun to lose his grip on Agnes, and the music gets heavier to match. The tension is then released by the mellow chorus, providing some relief.

Momentary relief only, you realise.

You see the sad in everything
A genius of love and loneliness and
This time you overdid the liquor
This time you pulled the fucking trigger
These days you’re rolling all the time
So low, so you keep getting high

Where went that cheeky friend of mine?
Where went that billion-dollar smile?

It becomes overly clear here that ‘Agnes’ is a semi-autobiographical song about a loved one who has committed suicide – Agnes has committed suicide, but Bayley still speaks to him.

The song ceases to become a melodic rendition or a mindless cry of pain. We sense Bayley’s sadness in the notes and lyrics, which manage to portray his pain with great alacrity.

Guess life is long
When soaked in sadness
On borrowed time
From Mr Madness

And so it goes
A choking rose back
To be reborn
I want to hold you like you’re mine

If you have reason to relate to the experience, as many do, here’s where the song reaches its highest point – it all feels uncomfortable and stifling until the final chorus kicks in:

You’re gone but you’re on my mind
I’m lost but I don’t know why

As it repeats again and again, catharsis is delivered each time Bayley sings the lines. His voice is aptly high, right where you need it to be. The electronic sounds reverberate in the background and amplify the feelings of loneliness and longing you have been fighting to overpower.

Once it’s over, what remains only makes you more aware of how empty loss can make you feel. 

The 2016 album ‘How to Be a Human Being’ by Glass Animals, a timeless masterpiece in its own right, mostly has songs that narrate the band’s own experiences.

This track not only grieves the death of Agnes, it demonstrates the power of loss – how it can shatter one inside out. The YouTube video description puts the whole parallel drawn to the centrifuge as an attempt to simulate how Agnes was feeling. The other paragraphs which interpret the sensations that manifest while inside a centrifuge start making perfect sense once you re-read them after listening to the song.

There has been a lot of speculation about who Agnes was. But in my opinion, such focus only takes away from the depth of emotions present in the lyrics and the music.

The song strikes a personal chord in more way than one. Like the roses shown in the video, it points to how good things exist and will continue to exist even though we’ve lost someone who we hold dear.

Love and hope are also ever present, a reminder that no matter how broken you are, closure is a possibility and you have to strive on despite the pain – and despite no longer having a person you loved greatly by your side.

For a relatively happy and upbeat song, ‘Agnes’ truly delivers body blows with its lyrics and video. There are very few songs that have moved me so much that I was prompted to write about them – this Glass Animals classic is at the top of the list for breaking my heart over and over again. 

Gokul KP is a corporate employee and an ambitious writer who strongly believes that he has been living forever in a capitalistic dystopia.