Analogue Music | Matthew Ryan - "Heaven is a Place on Earth"
Matthew Ryan - "Heaven is a Place on Earth"

Matthew Ryan - "Heaven is a Place on Earth"

Artist: Matthew Ryan · Written by Matt Conner

Date Released

1 May, 2020


Hearts & Smarts

Who knew an '80s pop classic could deliver such an emotional punch?

Matthew Ryan's newest single is a reinterpretation of the 1987 Belinda Carlisle hit "Heaven is a Place on Earth," a song that rose to No. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. along with several other countries. The original recording, written by Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley, accomplished exactly what it was supposed to: it turned into a feel-good earworm that stands as one of the most recognizable choruses of the decade.

Peeling back the pop sheen, however, Ryan's version reintroduces the song into a fractured world, a time when nothing feels good anymore. Today's listeners are quarantined, dealing with economic worries and corrupt leadership, and given toxic practices with which to deal with most of our physical and emotional ills. Day by day, headlines reveal a hellish world around us; any notion of "heaven on earth" feels disconnected at best—either idealistic or unattainable.

But here's where Ryan's music has always worked its quiet magic, offering a beautifully whispered word into the darker chambers of our heart and wider world. Those lyrics are typically found on any number of albums he's released since '97's May Day, but here he's surprised us by unpacking our pop cultural soundtrack in a way that leaves us wondering how we missed it all along.

Set to a sparse acoustic arrangement, against such an abysmal backdrop, familiar verses grow into new branches of meaning. "When I feel alone / I reach for you / And you bring me home," sings Ryan. "When I'm lost at sea / I hear your voice / And it carries me." Most of us, at least those of us old enough to lean on this cultural touchstone, could sing right along and yet somehow miss the lighthouse beacon offered by these words. These are no longer lines but lifelines at a time when the idea of "home" or "being carried" feel so needed, so necessary.

Molly Thomas' lovely vocal and cello and Neilson Hubbard's piano work deserve credit for rounding out the wonderful arrangement. The heavy lifting, however, has already been done in this familiar tune that's been waiting for such treatment. A tip of the hat to Matthew Ryan, then, for realizing how we need the defiantly positive stance set forth in this song.

In this world we're just beginning
To understand the miracle of living
Baby I was afraid before
But I'm not afraid anymore

If we're going to learn to live among myriad voices telling us what or, far worse, whom to fear, then the responsibility is upon us to reject the heart's descent. The invitation is before us, this time from Ryan: "Let's make heaven a place on earth."

We're in.