What people remember about “Stay” are its extremes – the teetering, cracking soprano of Marcella Detroit’s lead vocal, and Siobhan Fahey’s growled and throaty intervention on the bridge. The deliberate contrast laid the song open to plenty of parodies, and a faint air of gimmickry hung over it – so ambitious, so unlike the rest of the charts, but still somehow a little absurd, an awkward collision between “Nothing Compares 2 U” and “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”, switching clumsily between intensity and bluster.
And it is that, but it’s aged very well indeed. In a world where “Dark Romance” – Twilight knock-offs, basically – has its own bookstore section, the florid, crushed-velvet obsessiveness of “Stay” makes complete aesthetic sense. It’s gothy, needy, with a dangerous undertow, hard to take entirely seriously and intoxicating if you do – if the word “emo” had meant anything in 1992 it would have been slapped on this.
Obviously, the switched-dynamics form of the song matches its content: a tale of two worlds, the singer’s and the subject’s, and the relationship between them. One is claustrophobic, intense, something to escape: the other reached by risky passage, but where safety is hardly guaranteed and worse terrors may lurk. The specifics of what’s going on in “Stay” are obscured – but the emotional truth of it is keenly, melodramatically, felt. Some worlds, the singer is saying, change those who visit them: return is not an option. That applies whether the other world is a relationship, a lifestyle, a subculture, or even something more literal or fantastic. But if this was the song’s only message it would be a little trite, and the power of “Stay” is that it digs deeper. The idea of no returns is a self-serving one – it’s what the dwellers in those worlds tell themselves, and their secret terror (the terror at the heart of this song) is that this is a lie, you can go back.