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OK, I'm changing this question a little bit since I've discovered a problem with the root of the question assuming the lyrics in the song are "feathers on my breath". Apparently this is a big debate and a lot of people think the lyrics are "fearless on my breath". So which is it, feathers or fearless?

Here are links to the song and the lyrics.

I should note that I've listened to all the covers of this song listed on Wikipedia and three of them use "fearless" and two use "feathers", also one of the ones that uses "fearless" messes up the line "love is a doing word" as "love is a dying word".

As a note, I'm of the opinion that the lyrics are "feathers on my breath" and that the pronunciation is simply strange enough to sound like "fearless". I'm not interested in speculative answers, I need a scan of a lyrics insert or an official source or statement from someone.

  • 1
    For what it's worth, there's a live performance video on YouTube and it definitely looks like Liz is saying "fearless" rather than "feathers". To put it in context though, this is the first time I've ever had any idea whatsoever of what lyrics she is singing. I'm not a huge fan of the Cocteaus but it's always really been a case of accepting the beauty of what she does rather than try to understand the words. – Lefty Dec 18 '15 at 23:47
  • I think listening to the 2006 remaster help prove it is fearless. youtu.be/Kcd-yceje38 – UnhandledExcepSean May 24 at 0:19
  • Countering my last comment, I was watching an episode of House where the song was played and sung during the episode; subtitles show feathers... – UnhandledExcepSean Jul 7 at 12:19
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I am answering this myself because someone made a really good point as I was discussing it today at work.

A: The word is "feathers"

  • The rest of the lyrics are full of physical, natural metaphors, feathers on my breath for example is a much more natural analogue to teardrop on the fire, water is my eye, black flowers blossom
  • Fearless is an adjective in this context, and the chorus "teardrop on the fire, feathers on my breath" matches the same grammatical structure -- noun on my noun, noun on my noun. This seems like a deliberate, poetic choice.

My only addition would be to point out that the singer uses strange pronunciations of words through the song. The best example to my point being her pronunciation of "breath" as "brayth", yet when she says "feathers" it sounds like "fearless" just as an English speaker would expect "fearless" to be pronounced. I believe she is saying feathers with her iconic strange accent and pronouncing it, "fee-aythers".

  • It also seems to fit with Gentle impulsion / Shakes me, makes me lighter – user16 Feb 4 '16 at 23:58
  • See the sheet music for Teardrop which has the full lyrics. You can preview all 6 pages of the sheet music, and the lyric is "fearless". – Nate Bundy Sep 8 '16 at 12:45
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    @NateBundy do we know that the songwriter has ratified that version though? – user16 Dec 29 '16 at 10:27
  • Yea it doesn't sound like feathers at all, the pronunciation feathers is not there at all. Before I looked at the lyrics anywhere I always thought she said fear of sunlight lol – Huangism Jul 29 at 20:32
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The lyrics are: feathers on my breath. A tear drop on the fire. Get it? Since a feather is as light as breath. And a tear drop couldnt do anything to extinguish a fire. Metaphors. And I believe the end is..."your stumbling into oz.".

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I wouldn't try to decipher the poetic meaning or structure behind the line as you can easily form a case for either fearless or feathers.

It's also very likely that there is no meaning to the words at all, or the pronunciation is intentionally vague. In this interview, Liz Fraser describes her writing process as one where the words don't have any real meaning beyond adding vocals to the music.

The pronunciation may also be attributed to the singer's accent. Fraser is from Grangemouth, Scotland which is is just 60km East of Glasgow. I'm not an expert on Scottish accents, but it might be feasible to compare the word in the song to the word in a Glasgow accent. A semi-popular example is the Feathers and Steel sketch from Limmy's Show. The word feathers is pronounced with a short eh sound rather than the long ee heard in the song.

So I'm learning towards it being either fearless or left ambiguous by the singer.

2

Online lyric websites often get it wrong, I've seen it plenty of times, and most of them even just copy each other, because so often I see the same misquoted lyrics on multiple sites. But is it wrong in this case?

If this sheet music of the original Massive Attack version is correct, then it is "fearless" and Jose Gonzalez (et. al.) either changed it or got it wrong.

enter image description here

This is the first page of the sheet music which you can buy from here.

I have read elsewhere that it might even be "fearless" in some parts and "feathers" in others. If someone wants to pay for the sheet music and post more of what they find we might finally know the official answer once and for all.

  • I think it's quite likely that someone at the publishers has to transcribe the lyrics by listening to the recording, which means their version is probably as good or bad as anyone else's. – PiedPiper Jul 29 at 21:14
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The answer is "fearless". She is describing the concept of love as a verb in the line before that should be expressed with a sense of complete freedom from fear i.e. to be said such that it is "fearless on my breath".

This is in keeping with the theme of the video showing a fetus - the most vivid representation of human vulnerability - singing these very words to us as a reminder to enter the world without fear.

The effect is at once humbling and awe-inspiring. Great songwriting there.

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Definitely "fearless" because the song is about how love is a verb and a doing word. Feathers are not an action. Therefore fearless is the way to go. I've never seen feathers anywhere, I know Elizabeth Frasier does that thing with words where you're not 100% sure what she's singing, but I'm pretty sure that album had lyrics in the original liner ave I'm also almost positive it's fearless. You did give me something to ponder though, thanks!

1

It is 'feathers on my breath'. I got the original CD which included an insert with the lyrics for teardrop.

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    Can you share a photo or something of the insert? – sanpaco May 21 at 19:11
  • I will post back in due time as I have a vague idea of where the CD may be. The CD was bought around 2001-2002, but I remember reading the lyrics in the booklet/insert. – dave88 May 22 at 8:25
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Whoever said the original insert had the feather lyrics is incorrect. The original insert (which I have literally just checked in my own cd collection) does not have the lyrics, perhaps the 12" version may have, yet also doubtful as it's not really Massive Attack's style, they're more bothered with artwork (well Robert IS Banksy after all)....so, hard to absolutely definitively ascertain without confirmation from the songwriter/lyricist, however, I've always considered it to be fearless, sheet music has shown that to be the line for decades and it seems only in recent times (post-house) that people seem to have got stuck on feathers and the net has propagated this (aided by an incorrect subtitle in house). Personally, I cant mangle feathers in my ear enough to fit the lyric, no matter how hard I try, whereas there is a very clear l sound in the middle of the world which fits fearless.

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Please check the official music video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7K72X4eo_s See between 1:19 and 1:21. It is undoubtedly clear to me that it is dipicting "feathers", floating aroud, on the unborn child's breath in the womb.

enter image description here

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