Friday, February 18, 2011

Ultravox, "All Stood Still" (1981)

Here is the song (I would embed it, but as we've recently seen, when I embed videos they jut off into the sidebar and just look ugly). Here are the lyrics:

The lights went out (the last fuse blew)
The clocks all stopped (it can't be true)
The program's wrong (what can we do?)
The printout's blocked (it relied on you)

The turbine cracked up
The buildings froze up
The system choked up
What can we do?

Please remember to mention me
In tapes you leave behind

We stood still
We all stood still
Still stood still
We're standing still

The Screen Shut Down (there's no reply)
The lifts all fall (a siren cries)
And the radar fades (a pilot sighs)
As the countdowns stall (the readout lies)

The back box failed (the codes got crossed)
And the jails decayed (the keys got lost)
Everyone kissed (we breathe exhaust)
In the new arcade (of the holocaust)

This is the best end-of-the-world song I know. Am I saying it's a better song qua song than "London Calling?" Well, no--but I'm saying its vision is scarier, more plausible, and generally more effective. In "London Calling," there's a certain sense of exhilaration and defiance--A nuclear error, but I have no fear. Things may be sort of be winding down, what with the way the engines stop running and the wheat grows thin, but it's still definitely a song where things happen. Whereas "All Stood Still" is about, well, stillness. Entropic decay. "The system choked up" and just sort of shudders to a halt. No more energy is being poured into the system; consequently, nothing is happening. This is the kind of thing that Fredric Jameson writes about in "Utopianism after the End of Utopia." Granted, the "everyone kissed" line lends what I would call an unwarranted air of romanticism to the proceedings, but outside of that, it's just great. Maybe my partiality to it partially stems from the fact that it slots so neatly into postmodern theory, but I think anyone should be able to appreciate it. Makes me want to go back and replay Small Worlds, with which it has quite a lot in common, thematically.

3 Comments:

Blogger Tavis pontificated to the effect that...

Clash songs tend to feel realistic. If they're not about something that happened, they're about something that could happen--perhaps not in cases like 'Atom Tan' or 'City of the Dead', but generally. There's an appeal there, particularly when dealing with something dark, disturbing, and speculative which one might want to pass off as fantasy.

Our end coming as a result of everyone and everything malfunctioning as if in absolute zero temperatures seems a bit fantastic. Add in everyone breathing exhaust while making out, and I can feel us slipping towards the surreal. That's fine, I suppose, but it's not my '80s apocalypse of choice.

1:40 AM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

I love the Clash, and I don't mean to denigrate "London Calling" or anything else of theirs. I just prefer the Ultravox in this particular instance. You're certainly correct that it's not "realistic" per se, but I feel like the "not with a bang but a whimper" version is somehow more believable, at least in a figurative sense.

Feel free to share your eighties apocalypse of choice!

1:45 AM  
Blogger Tavis pontificated to the effect that...

Either Fist of the North Star or Escape from New York, both in a round about fashion--not songs; I know, but I don't care. I guess I want more blood and exploding heads than lack-of-motion.

Or, focusing more on song, and less on gore, I'll take the Talking Heads' '(Nothing But) Flowers'. "I thought that we'd start over, but I guess I was wrong."

6:37 AM  

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