Record Machine: “Can’t Be Sure” by The Sundays

Released through famed indie label Rough Trade Records, The Sundays’ first single, “Can’t Be Sure,” is an great snapshot of the band at their most Smiths and Bunnymen-esque. Let us travel back to 1989 England, shall we?

The Sundays - Can't Be Sure

I acquired the single through an acquaintance in the early 2000s, having first been introduced to the band during the release of their 1997 album, Static and Silence. “Can’t Be Sure” came out just ahead of their 1990 debut, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.

Did you know desire’s a terrible thing
The worst that I could find
Desire’s a terrible thing
but I rely on mine

I live within my desire at all times, my desire that is so insistent and the least Buddhist part about me, and so I relate to those lines.

The song comes with B-sides “I Kicked a Boy” and “Don’t Tell Your Mother” — titles, when paired together, are almost a story in themselves. Harriet Wheeler’s voice is lovely, equally at home at both upper and lower registers. She’s good at both whispering and soaring.

And I’ve been wondering lately
Just who’s gonna save me
Yes, you should’ve been wise
Oh, hysterical child
Where’d you learn to do that

“Don’t Tell Your Mother” has more of the jangly guitars frequently associated with late-’80s British indie. It’s my favorite of the three songs. The high parts are out of my range, but that doesn’t keep me from trying to sing along.

Don’t tell your mother about
Where you go when the lights are down
And don’t tell your mother how
You’re up to no good, nowhere to be found

It’s late summer nights, teenage shenanigans, and snuck cigarettes. It’s wistful, yet looking towards the future in that youthful way one does when they have so much more life to live before they know how to do anything. They just want to go, go, go.

I don’t own the full album, but I’d like to, if only to satisfy the completist within. I listened to Static and Silence like crazy during high school, so I’m not sure why I never carried on with my purchases. Give them a listen, if you’re unfamiliar. You won’t be sorry.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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