Bernard Butler’s “Stay” is exactly the song that all of his fans wanted him to put out as his first solo record, I suspect, and also exactly the song that everyone who liked to make fun of his grandiose production were probably expecting and sharpening their barbs for in anticipation. This is in no way a subtle song although, at its heart, it is; if you can get beyond the production and arrangement, this is a very gentle, quiet thing deep down. The lyrics, especially the blunt, short chorus (“Don’t go/Stay/This time” – That’s really it, and I kind of love it for how unaffected and un-clever, if that makes sense, it is), feel like they belong to something much quieter and more intimate, and even Butler’s delivery of the lines feel more restrained than everything surrounding his voice (Although this was the first thing he’d ever released as a solo artist, singing as well as performing on guitar, and possibly the first full song lyric he’d written alone as well, so maybe there are more reasons for his restrained vocal than lyrical intent).
But the music… The song just builds wonderfully, from strummed acoustic guitar to the slowly added other instruments (piano, drums, bass, unnecessary-but-why-not wind sound effects), and then at the end of the first chorus, the electric guitar fading in with feedback that feels both out of place and just wonderfully necessary in a way that turns the song on instead of it just existing. The way that the electric guitar feels as if it’s the emotion to the whole thing, this anguish that he can’t quite get out any other way (The way it just attacks the bridge still makes me wish I knew how to play guitar, knew how to express myself in that way, this immediate wonderful difficult way). By the time the song is finishing, it’s all about the electric guitar, that’s become the purpose of the song, explaining what the song is and what it’s about much more than the vocal. Considering Butler’s past in Suede, where it felt at times he was fighting with singer Brett Anderson for the soul of the song (Just listen to “Stay Together” or “The Asphalt World” and you’ll hear what I mean), it seemed fitting and thrilling and it feels the same even now, more than a decade later.
This isn’t a great song, but it is a great performance, if that makes sense; other people could try to do this track but, because they wouldn’t have that guitar in there, it wouldn’t measure up. “Stay” might have been the first song that proved that Bernard Butler could write an entire song himself and could carry a tune if he had to, but it’s also a song that proved once and for all that he’s definitely at his best as a guitarist.