Tag Archives: u2

If popstars were… the apocalypse

So many ways for the world to end. It’s almost impossible to choose the best one. But some of our most interesting popstars have had a stab, and Britney’s only the most recent…

Jonathan King – Everyone’s Gone To The Moon

I’m scared, hold me! Where better to start our end times tour than with Jonathan King? Sure, this song’s been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to the Flaming Lips, but the desolate lyrics have a special resonance coming out of the wonky mouth of their author, the future convicted sex offender and satirically self-proclaimed ‘Vile Pervert’.

What sort of apocalypse is this? It’s a very 60s sort of Armageddon, with overtones of an ecological crisis but a sense that the worst thing that could happen would be everyone not loving each other any more and just going away. Jonathan wanders the streets of an abandoned earth, rambling oddly about mouths full of chocolate covered cream and arms that can only lift a spoon. No I’m not sure what it means either. Perhaps there are clues in his later work.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes it sounds terrible.

Black Box Recorder – It’s Only The End of the World

I’m scared, hold me! Well yes I have skipped straight to the late 90s without including Pet Shop Boys’ End of the World. It’s beautiful and devastating but it’s about the world NOT ending. Think of Black Box Recorder’s song as a bleaker response along similar lines if you like.

What sort of apocalypse is this? I’d say it’s the natural destruction of the earth as a consequence of the sun’s expansion – seen in an especially soporific, bored way, of course. The earth’s rotation slows, satellites break up in the atmosphere and our ashes are scattered in space. Meanwhile the narrator’s thoughts turn to the tatty fairground rides at a departed circus, and the dissipation of love.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes, if the end of all things is like going to sleep under anaesthetic in a 50s hospital while a posh, disinterested nurse talks you down. It’s exquisite.

Muse – Apocalypse Please

I’m scared, hold me! It’s no surprise to find these fellas on the list. They’re Britain’s favourite doomsday combo, after all. “It’s time for something biblical!” declares Matt Bellamy with glee as thunderous piano chords and DRUMS OF DEATH smash all around him.

What sort of apocalypse is this? You only need to look at the album cover: it’s the Christian Rapture, and some poor fella’s got stuck on earth. Speaking of which, I discovered today that there’s — oh yes — a video game version of Left Behind, that histrionic series of post-Rapture potboilers that’s popular in Christian bookshops. “If you can’t convert them, you might have to kill them!” players will tell themselves as they struggle to bring God’s love to a world awaiting Tribulation. Amusingly for uptight evangelicals everywhere, you can also play as the Antichrist’s forces.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes it bloody does.

U2 – Last Night On Earth

I’m scared, hold me! You can’t blame U2, with their roots in a charismatic Dublin fellowship, for being a bit obsessed with the end times. They’d even already had a dry run with Until the End of the World, a few years before this one.

So, apparently they had to put this song together in a terrible rush on their last studio day before going on tour. Poor Bono had to stay up all night to finish the lyrics! It doesn’t show, Bono. My favourite bit is “She’s not waiting on a saviour to come, she’s at a bus-stop with the News of the World and the Sun.” Given a choice of how to spend the last few hours of existence, I wouldn’t bother with the tabloids I don’t think. Especially not when, as logic tells us, one of them is at least a day out of date, whichever day of the week it is.

What sort of apocalypse is this? Hands on the clock are sticking and slipping (temporal distortion?), the ground’s giving way, and the girl in the song has got to ‘give it away’. It’s all a bit vague (THAT’S NOT LIKE YOU BONO), and Dublin was a long time ago, so let’s plump for something nice and Buddhist involving an advanced perception of time and the cycle of destruction and recreation.

Does it sound like the end of all things? No, it sounds like milky tea.

Britney Spears – Till The World Ends

I’m scared, hold me! Well it was only a matter of time before Britney turned her attention from self-destruction to the destruction of all things. Her sugar-coated catastrophe takes the form of a doom-laden dance-off. It’s that unique feeling when you find a partner on the dancefloor who’s so good you want to grind to the beat until the flesh melts off your bones.

What sort of apocalypse is this? Britney’s assertion that the world’s end will be within her lifetime rules out the dispensational premillennialism you might expect from her Southern Baptist upbringing. I’d tag her as a progressive amillennialist, or even a partial preterist, although with her determined adherence to hedonism in this song, it’s possible she doesn’t see herself as one of the saved.

Does it sound like the end of all things? No-one expected a disco! But there’s that thrilling moment when the end of the world is depicted sonically by a decaying 8-bit crunch. And then it comes back! Of course, if you watch the video, Britney does appear to have actually averted the apocalypse by dancing. The sun shines out of her arse at 3:10 and all! And as it’s set on “December 21, 2012”, she seems to have lumped herself in with the Mayan calendar view of things, so I might just have to rethink my interpretation of her eschatological leanings. But I’ll let Wikipedia have the last word. They’ve got a very important, and amazing, distinction to make.

If popstars were… Lebanese

Lebanon! Ancient seat of the proud Phoenicians! Rich cultural melting pot of the modern world! The Switzerland of the East! With Lady Gaga’s unexpected shout-out to the Lebanese people in Born This Way recently, it’s time to take a look at this noble country’s treatment at the hands of Western pop through the years. Let’s hope they didn’t all just focus on the war stuff…

The Human League – The Lebanon

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. And it’s not terribly probing, either. But nevertheless it’s become a gold standard for ‘political songs about a country we don’t really know much about’. Phil Oakey has sheepishly admitted that he’s proud to have won a ‘Worst Lyrics’ accolade for lines like ‘Where there used to be some shops, Is where the snipers sometimes hide.’ And why not. It’s its well-meaning innocence that makes this a classic.

What does it sound like then? The Human League express their anger at the bleakness of war by breaking their ‘no guitars’ rule and going a bit rock. It was a big deal at the time, honest. And it still sounds great.

Chris de Burgh – Lebanese Nights (featuring Elissa)

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. Chris meets a woman who sets his heart a-flutter. But it’s not long before he’s probing into ‘the young girl in her eyes’ in spectacularly patronising fashion. ‘Did you dance in the fields? Did you run for your life? From the HELL THAT RAINED DOWN FROM THE SKY?!’

Still, he gets an award for saying ‘Lebanese’ as many times as possible. ‘It was late in a Lebanese restaurant!’ ‘In the heat of a Lebanese night!’ ‘By the light of a Lebanese dawn!’ And in the closing seconds — if you can make it to the end of this awful song — there’s an unexpected Human League-style flourish as Chris abruptly declares ‘In the Lebanon!’

What does it sound like then? It starts off quite nicely with some authentic-sounding Lebanese percussion and instrumentation. And Lebanese singer Elissa pops up for a pretty interlude. But otherwise, rest assured, the chorus crushes everything into a life-sapping soft-rock Middle England drone.

U2 – Cedars of Lebanon

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. ‘I’ve got a head like a lit cigarette, unholy clouds reflecting in a minaret!’ declares Bono at one point, as portentous and meaningless as ever.

No Line On The Horizon, the album this track closes, might be, partially, a sort of concept album about the Middle East. Recording sessions took place in Morocco — where Adam Clayton excitedly says he felt a ‘connection with the Arabic scale’ — and there’s a track on it called Fez – Being Born. Mind you they were going to call that one Tripoli at one point. Not that I’m suggesting that U2 think Middle Eastern locations are interchangeable! Not for a minute! Anyway, the last verse of Cedars of Lebanon is apparently a rant against the Iraq war.

Like Chris de Burgh’s, Bono’s description of Lebanon involves sitting around in a restaurant. Maybe that’s the key to the Western experience of the country: ‘All those wars! Awful! We must help them! Mind you the service is TERRIBLE.’ In the end I’m not convinced U2 have got anything to say about the Cedars of Lebanon other than it’s a nice phrase which they remember from Bible Group.

What does it sound like then? It’s rather nice, I’m sorry to say, understated with an electronic pulse and a weary post-rock feel to it. But I can’t say I hear any of Adam Clayton’s ‘Arabic scale’ coming through.

Gorillaz – White Flag (featuring The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music)

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? Are you having a laugh? It’s about being shipwrecked on Gorillaz’ fictional no-man’s land/musical utopia Plastic Beach (‘If Heaven had a VIP, this is it‘).

What does it sound like then? Well of all the tracks on the list, this is the one that actually brings in a whole Arabic orchestra. And on the same track as exposure-deserving UK rappers Kano and Bashy as well! I was so excited when I saw the track list. And the opening of the song is a brilliant concoction of Middle Eastern excitement. You wait for the moment when the beat and the raps will come in. SMASH IT ALL TOGETHER DAMON! SMASH IT! But no, instead it segues into a completely different track — quite a nice one, with fruit machine bleeps and so on — while the Oriental orchestra wait patiently to come in again for a coda after the rapping’s over. It’s a decent track, but integrated, it could have been a brilliant one.

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? In passing. This, they say, is a unification anthem for all races and sexualities, a massive cross-media event, a ‘Manifesto from Mother Monster’. And once all the hype has died down, we’re left to enjoy the oddities of the lyrics, which leads me to the reason I started writing this post in the first place.

You can’t fault Gaga for wanting to eliminate all forms of prejudice across the globe. You can, however, have a good laugh at her quick tour of the world’s key ethnicities. “You’re black, white, beige, chola descent! You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient!”

Without even pausing to wonder who’s been left out, it’s odd and amazing to see the people of a single, smallish country lionised like this. (Also amusing that she says Orient rather than Oriental, for the sake of the rhyming scheme.) Is it the Human League’s influence? Is it, as a more sensible commenter than me points out, because she’s best buddies with (Lebanese-born) Mika and it’s a roundabout way of addressing anti-Arab prejudice in the US? Either way, Lebanon is BACK as a pop force. And that’s great.

What does it sound like then? I think by now we’ve pretty well established that it sounds like Madonna’s Express Yourself.