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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023

'Fickle Game' Retrospective: Amber Run is Haunted and Haunting

Cover art for Amber Run's single "Fickle Game."
Cover art for Amber Run's single "Fickle Game." By Courtesy of Amber Run / RCA Records / Sony Music Entertainment
By Larissa G. Barth, Crimson Staff Writer

“Life’s a fickle game we play,” sings British indie rock band Amber Run in their 2017 single “Fickle Game,” an existentialist inquiry into the uncertainty and arbitrariness of life. Released five years ago, the song and its album “For a Moment, I was Lost” kick-started the approach that would continue to be the band’s trademark: Raw, haunting honesty that refrains from sugarcoating.

Amber Run is best known for the single “I Found” from their debut album “5AM,” which has a theatrical, joyful sound and heavy production. By contrast, their second album was produced during a tumultuous time for the band, leading to its stripped-back sound that foregrounds the vulnerable honesty of the poetic lyrics. After the band’s label had dropped them and their drummer left, the trio had to deal with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and depression, all of which are reflected on “For a Moment, I was Lost.”

“Fickle Game” starts with a wistful piano intro that blends seamlessly with lead singer Joshua Keogh’s breathy vocals as he sings, “I want to be older / I want to be stronger / I don't want to fall at the start / I want to be quicker / I want to get closer / Don't want to feel worlds apart.” The repetition of “I want” in combination with these comparative adjectives describes the human yearning for stability in the most direct, honest form possible. If one were older, stronger, and quicker, life’s blows of fate might not throw one off balance so easily, Amber Run muses in these lyrics. The descending melodic line often utilizes painfully narrow intervals to underscore the ache in Keogh’s voice.

In the pre-chorus, the piano slows down by playing longer chords, abandoning Keogh whose voice now stands alone. The addition of somber, ethereal background vocals starkly contrasts Keogh’s melodic line which hurries in small steps around a single note. These musical techniques as well as the lyrics “'Cause I'm fast enough to get in trouble / And not fast enough to get away” essentially portray Keogh as a powerless human being trying to evade reality to no avail.

Before the chorus, the background vocals fade into silence right after the song’s most striking line, “And I’m old enough to know I’ll end up dying / And not young enough to forget again.” This haunting full stop — the sonical “death” of the song — forces the listener to contemplate the lyrics, which gives them no choice but to reciprocate Amber Run’s vulnerability. “The real beauty comes in the moments of self-doubt, but we’re all too scared to engage with it,” Amber Run told EUPHORIA. in an interview.

With breathy falsetto, Keogh sings that “It's all a fickle game / Life's a fickle game we play” in the chorus. The descending melodic line repeats four times, with Keogh’s voice rising up again and again without being able to escape from the game. “Fickle Game” also utilizes syncopation, a displacement of the regular metrical accent by stressing the weak beat. This melodical dance around the strong beats intriguingly expresses the “fickle” nature of life.

The second chorus gives way to a cathartic interlude, one of Amber Run’s trademarks. Reverberating guitar riffs and percussion swell dynamically as Keogh belts “It’s a fickle game!” This climactic bridge then fades into a quiet outro which again isolates Keogh’s voice as he resignedly sings, “I’m sick of fickle games.” In a circular format, the song ends as it began with the same wistful piano accompaniment.

“Fickle Game” is a desperate outcry against the disorienting absurdity and impermanence of life, a haunted yearning for stability and control, a solitary search for meaning. How, then, shall we play this fickle game? Amber Run, consistent with their rejection of artificial sugarcoating, does not answer this question. “Any which way you turn, there’s never the right answer in front of you,” the band told EUPHORIA. and another song from the album repeats the line “I’ve got no answers.” Perhaps, the answer is precisely that there is no answer. If we can set nothing against life’s uncertainties, the only thing left is to stop asking questions, to accept, and to surrender.

— Staff writer Larissa G. Barth can be reached at

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