The very idea of a bear is a heavy thing to think about. Solitary, seldom seen, kept at a distance when spotted, looming large and imposing in both physical and metaphysical terms, intelligent, and dangerous when threatened yet yearning, perhaps, for the love lavished upon the toys sewn in its likeness — a bear is indeed a complicated creature, as misunderstood as it is totemic. While I wouldn’t suggest Eric Osbourne is referencing some mystical ursine atavism in his new single, the melancholy singer-songwriter taps into the notion of a bear’s singular, lonesome existence to make you feel the weight of an outsider pained by the distance of unrequited love.
Released just a couple of days ago, “I’m the Bear” is the first single off a new four-song EP. Recorded in July 2022 at Niles City Sound (Leon Bridges, Vincent Neil Emerson) with Joel Raif and at Blackstone Studio with Mark Randall, When … features performances by Cameron Smith (Cameron Smith & The Slings, War Party) on guitar, Eddie Dunlap (Master Cylinder, Clint Niosi, MONDO Drummers) on drums, Tamara Cauble Brown (The Slings, Standard Transition, Telegraph Canyon) on violin, her brother Aaron Cauble on cello, Patrick Higgins (The Slings, Understudied, Spiral Sound) on bass, and Osbourne on guitar, vocals, and everything else. It’s his first new release since “If I Could Only Fly,” a single from November 2022 which followed his wintry, exquisitely melancholy 2019 eponymous debut album.
Like its predecessors, “Bear” is lush, expansive, and brooding, proceeding in a stately, measured tempo, like one would use while walking through snow or if Nick Drake had written a Meddle-era Pink Floyd tune before he died. But instead of Floyd’s deliberately airless, fussed-over perfection, Osbourne and his backing band went about recording the new EP live, and that decision, along with the precision of his players, gives a song with a moody, downcast tempo inescapable forward momentum.
“The demos I had were very different, mostly sketches,” he said. “The band pretty much took what I played down and riffed on it. [It was] definitely a group effort.”
The song’s arrangement itself has that on-the-fly brilliance of a live show as well, as it was born out of live show rehearsals.
“We had most of it worked out already from practicing for the few shows we played,” he said. “It always changes a little bit, but I didn’t want to restrict anyone’s movements, so I mostly let the band do their thing. And they did not disappoint.”
Ironically, disappointment is one of the themes Osbourne explores in “I’m the Bear,” as its narrator seems to be watching his love exist at a distance while she cozies into various perilous situations with other paramours. “You’re a falcon / In the lion’s den / Well, I’m the bear,” he sings, his baritone laden with wistful admiration, imploring her to “Come in / Come in / And shut the door / Show me the light / You pass through yourself / Show me how / It fractures and help me / I see the rainbow … If you want me, you can call / I’ll come running to you dear.” In the end, “the bear” is left watching her become “the lumberjack’s wife.”
I asked Osbourne about that line because in my head, it grounds the animal imagery in reality, giving the narrative an ending.
“This song is really a mashup of a couple different sets of lyrics that seem to puzzle the listener, unfortunately,” he replied. “It goes together in my mind now. … The lumberjack bit is sort of a dig at a specific kind of person, and if they’re cutting down the trees, it’s fucking things up for the bear.”
Eric Osbourne’s “I’m the Bear” renders a complicated sentiment at its end, as heavy, lonely, and complex as its namesake and the perfect sort of sadness to wrap yourself in when those feelings fill your own soul.