Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Greedy Ugly People

Alright, time for an admission. Until a few years ago most lyrics passed me by. Well, actually, that might not be entirely true. I can't decide if they – generally speaking – passed me by out of my ignorance or if the music I listened to had lyrics so uninspired and so insipid that they passed me by out of their sheer....well, nothingness, and then tuned me out of lyrics entirely. Probably a bit of both.

This used to surprise a few of those around me who'd ask me how I could listen to stuff like Pulp and indie pop (or twee pop if you're so inclined) and all other kinds of music where lyrics are such an integral part of the experience. I can't say if there was a eureka moment when everything clicked into place and lyrics started to mean something to me, or if it was a gradual frame-shift over time, but since then, deciphering and/or visualising lyrics has become a real joy. Whether it's alternating between the despair and romanticising of the blue collar worker (Springsteen), quotable, pithy one liners (Craig Finn, Howard Devoto, Edwyn Collins, Jarvis Cocker), abstract narratives (David Tattersall) or emotive, genuine odes (Stuart Murdoch, Bobby Wratten, Jeremy Warmsley, Elizabeth Morris)

But I never thought that a lyric could have such a profound effect on me as one which I rediscovered yesterday. Darren Hayman is without doubt one of the nation's finest lyricists, a man able to paint vivid technicolour landscapes to his songs, which at the moment focus on finding love in loveless places (see my review of Essex Arms on musicOMH – proof if ever it were needed that his abilities remain undimmed by time). When I was no older than 17 or so a friend lent me a Hefner best of, and having listened to it a few times returned it. The songs were alright, but nothing special. Only when Pull Yourself Together spun 'Hello Kitten' at Manchester's Postcards festival in September did I go back and reappraise the back-catalogue, and I'm glad I did. Despite not hearing some of the songs for around 6 years, there were several which I could recite word for word. I can't think of any other instance where this has happened. It demonstrates the quality of lyrics when they're to songs which at the time you don't even especially rate, yet still become so engrained into your subconscious. Oh, and yes, I concede, Hefner songs are indeed something special.

But yes, profound lyric story time. After finishing work and getting home at lunchtime, I was greeted by news of the spending cuts. Probably because of the reference to greed, I decided to put on 'The Greedy Ugly People', which contains the line:

'The greedy ugly people are not like us
They don't feel the love that she and I would die without'

Now, I'm not saying I sat there in floods of tears (not that there's anything wrong in doing so, it's just inaccurate), but I suddenly felt compelled to hear the song again, and again, and again, and to hell with my severely skewed charts.

I think the resonance may have to do with the fact that the people currently running our country at this present time seems to have little or no compassion. The sudden nature of the cuts feel like we've all been thrown into a car with a brick on the accelerator, the brakes severed, and a brick wall looming on the horizon. But we really shouldn't expect much else from a cabinet where 22 of 29 cabinet ministers are millionaires,19/29 were educated at private,fee-paying schools and 19/29 are Oxbridge graduates. Darren Hayman's words seemed to encapsulate my fears about the future of society under the current government and its oppressive cuts. A future where the country will potentially not only be divided into the haves and the have nots, but into those of two differing mindsets: those who look at the bottom line and nothing but, and those to whom deeper things – such as love, empathy, compassion - take priority.

The song as a whole feels like it could soundtrack footage of the miners' strike in 1984, the poll tax riots in 1990, redundant staff carrying their desks out of soon-to-close offices in boxes or in fact any other instance where a fixation with the bottom line has shrouded judgement at the expense of society. As far as I'm concerned, Darren Hayman's words are bittersweet. They either offer a beacon of hope that even in the difficult times ahead people can still proudly exude such emotions in the face of adversity, or signal a time of great misery, where a government's obsession with number-crunching with little regard to the consequences will mean it's all the populous will be able to do to keep its head above water. What it does show, unequivocally, is that even without the overt view of 'The Day That Thatcher Dies', Hefner's 'We Love The City' may just offer a surprise soundtrack for the turbulent times ahead.

'Love, don't stop no wars, don't stop no cancer, it stops my heart'

1 comment:

  1. you're not the first person told me to listen to Hefner, but you told me when i was sat here with nothing to do?

    so i've just given we love the city a spin and uh, it's actually very good. feel slightly foolish that they've always been a "yeah, i'll listen to then sometime" band for me.