Sensitive Kid

Indie Rock band Cold War Kids emerged on the scene in 2004, with a bass-driven, anti-powerchord, telecaster/keyboard funk that helped reclaim Rock from from the whiny grunge-pop crooners of the late 90’s.

A lesser-known track from their lesser-known album, Sensitive Kid (2011) recounts vocalist Nathan Willet’s time at high school during his parent’s divorce. Verse 2:

They sold the house, left photo albums there
No silver ware while paper walls were bare
I called all my friends, ‘Come over! Come one, come all!’
‘Let’s get a crowd here for one last hoorah!’A sensitive kid [x2]
Who made me
A sensitive kid [x2]
I can imagine this sentiment being echoed across households throughout the Western world, coming from the band who styled themselves on being born and raised Gen-Xers, the first true victims of the great social experiment of the post-war era. Willet, like the burgeoning proportion of children today, faced confusion, alienation and questions of identity as the collateral damage of his parents’ divorce.
In the first verse:
I try being sweet
It’s buried deep in me
Now I can only see red on red
My mom’s going out with my best friends’ dad
She talking loud I can’t believe what she said
A sensitive kid [x2]
Overhearing your mother describe you as ‘a sensitive kid’, to another man in light of your less-than-stoic reaction to the news of your family’s breakup is both humiliating and emasculating. Sensitive implies that your reaction is somehow weak, child-like and indicative of your premature development and lack of experience with the real world. Kid, while seemingly self-explanatory, adds condescending insult to injury by removing the dignity of being male, that he might as well be a girl, since ‘kids are kids’.
Verse 3:
The message was bleak, my brother pounded it in me
You climb it up or you cut it down
This is your family tree
I know you were born with a heart of gold
But, I want a purple heart that cannot be sold

A sensitive kid [x2]
Don’t call me
A sensitive kid [x2]

I can’t tell you why you should a known it
Sensitive kids start acting like a grown up [x4]

The ‘heart of gold’, which represents his earnest, well-meaning and child-like innocence objects to this new reality. The irony of the ‘Sensitive Kid’ is that he is one who has been molly-coddled, protected from anything remotely dangerous from helicopter parents and suburban modernity, yet thrown into tumultuous upheaval because the safety and security of his home has been an illusion all along. All that is left for this contemptible nancy-boy is to suck it up and ‘start acting like a grown-up’, since the cause of his trauma is that he is a ‘Sensitive Kid’.

The trailing high baritone vocals, half-time drums and bounce-cascade bass riff combine to create a sense of triviality amidst the despair of the lyrics. This is standard fare, happens all the time, lots of other kids at school have divorced parents. ‘I can’t tell you why you should have known it’, because how are we to prepare children for this?

It is uncommon to find subversive themes in pop-culture, even in the ‘underground’ kind, as it has just about all ‘been done before’. Despite a few tired love songs, by playing with timing, non-melodic vocals and creating characters and first person narratives, Cold War Kids are original, and speak to a younger generation more genuinely than most of their retro-revival contemporaries.

Buy their album, Mine is Yours here.


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