Another month bites the dust. The penultimate for 2014. Here come the final days.
Yesterday’s birthday girl, Sally Timms, is one of the key ingredients of the Mekons’ sound. Whether singing lead, as she does on today’s song, or back-up, Timms adds a distinctive soulfulness to the proceedings. She can sound ethereal, tough, wistful, resigned, lovelorn. On “Waltz” she delivers a particularly elliptical lyric with a cool ardor.
The song is second-to-last on The Curse of the Mekons. Curse is one of the band’s best, full of potshots at the state of affairs in the world at large, not least the recent “death of socialism” that came with the fall of the former Soviet Union. The album finds the Mekons contemplating their own errors as well as those of the times in general, and “Waltz” seems a kind of commentary on the moribund nature of something—whether a relationship or a career. “The graveyard scene looks fine / The skull has all the best lines” always appealed to me as a neat summation of a kind of “late in the day” look at where we are. The refrain “And you won’t ever come home now / You won’t ever come home”—sung with a sense of mournful resignation—seems to sum up an estrangement that will never be repaired.
Elsewhere are intriguing details like “The sea turns black with robot’s blood / A terrible beauty is born.” Echoing Yeats’ lines—“Things are changed, changed utterly / A terrible beauty is born”—about the Easter Rebellion in Dublin in 1916, the lines suggest some kind of uprising of robots against their masters, or perhaps a massacre of robots that are used for unnamed purposes. “A pair of giant’s hands / Sinks into the sand” recalls something like Ozymandias and a figure of supposed power now undone. “Tear out the family silver / To pay off the stooges we hired,” besides being comical in such a stately delivery, indicates a once proud lineage fallen on hard times, hiring stooges and having to pawn heirlooms to pay for illegal acts. And doesn’t that sound like a lot of things one could think of with regard to various governments, ransoming the future—legacy—for the sake of nefarious practices to maintain power in the present?
There’s also the interesting parallel that comes after the identical lines “Lovely assassin” (which plays into the hired hit man aspect of the song), in which someone—the assassin—is dressed as a lifeguard watching others drown, and dressed as a fireman starts a fire (which may recall the antithetical relation of fireman to fire in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451). Such matters seem an ironic commentary on those who we might expect to protect us from doom playing into the murderous atmosphere here. In other words, it’s a song that finds figures for the darkling feeling we might find ourselves experiencing as, initially, the old Cold War came to an end—and, with it, “history” in some formulations—and a brave new world got under way.
Today, the song stands as a tribute to Timms’ role in the Mekons—such sensitive vocals would no doubt elude other singers in the band—and as a grimly sardonic end to the second-to-last month of 2014.