Comic book writer Alan Moore has dropped a new single today, available through Occupation Records. His first new recording in a while, it shows a clear new direction for his music, away from shamanistic chanting in the woods of Northampton and more towards William Shatner-style slam poetry. His newest song shows clear his influences, which range from Britpop, The Smiths, and the ballads Chas n’ Dave used to release in the 1980s.
The song is called ‘The Decline of English Murder’, and sees Moore recite a series of fairly out-of-tune lines of varying quality, linked by a sense of grumpiness and depression which perfectly captures life in modern Britain. It’s a work of miserable, mind-numbing genius, and it’s fair to say it’s one of the worst songs of the year. Released to coincide with a protest march in London, the song is available for purchase if you want to subject yourself to the unending drone of Alan Moore’s inner monologue, with all proceeds going to the anarchists. It’s streamed online via The Guardian, although you’ll have to wait through an advert first. Is that really in the true anarchist spirit, The Guardian?
Of course, the song is named after George Orwell’s ‘Decline of English Murder’ essay, in which the writer analysed the various ways in which the media liked to depict murder. Orwell’s essay investigates the idea that the press likes to sensationalise cases which they can wring human sentiment from. So this would be the idea seen in most newspapers today, wherein the death of a child immediately results in the child as a martyr, at which point the paper marches in solidarity to find truth and justice for all. However, a number of factors tends to mean that similar tragedies won’t warrant the same outrage or fury. Weird, that.
That aside, let’s take a few lines from this terribly written piece of music (seriously, put on a One Direction track instead, you guys) and see what Moore’s talking about here. His approach seems to be to tell the brief story of two or three different people, who will at some point be murdered by the incompetency of the British government. The first unfortunate is a woman in a washroom. I didn’t realise we still had washrooms.
English Murder. Its all over her face.
Just waiting until the right time the wrong light boy
There’ll be a photograph
With a bad 1970′s fringe and a look of uncertainty
Leaving aside the lack of a rhyme scheme (he’s not even broken this into iambic pentameter, the cad!), this does manage to spectacularly tell us absolutely nothing about what Moore wants us to get upset about. Any insight or fury remains trapped inside Moore’s head, as his writing leaves listeners in the dark. Simply, he doesn’t get his message across with any of the power that he should be trying for. The lyrics come across as a list of nonsense, lines which sit next to each other although they bear no relation to each other. It’s hardly Nick Cave.
At least with One Direction, you know what the point of each verse is. We cut to a second unfortunate next, and Moore is slightly more successful here in making us have any sort of clue what’s going on here.
So he shuffles the half a mile to the nearest post office
When lads push into the queue he pretends he’s not noticed them
And English murder. Its all over his face.
A low enough cold snap, a high enough gas bill
You’ll skim the epitaph
Aha! So this is either a guy who kills himself because proper queue rules have not been followed, or he dies in his cold house because he can’t afford to keep the gas on. This is a direct attack on the kids of today (although in my experience it’s always Alan’s generation who are the most egregious line-jumpers) as well as the way that British Gas regulates itself. David Cameron – he’s the British Prime Minister, you guys – did recently say he’d try to enforce new regulations on such companies, so Moore’s not too far off the point here. It does seem a bit too easy to take the shot at the ‘lads’, especially when their generation hasn’t yet had a chance to run the country, and has instead been poorly looked after by the generation upstairs.
And the scabby grey anti-climb paint and withdrawn amenities
In case socialising promotes anti-social behaviour
Your average psychopath, at least kills with a hammer or brick
and not with greed and incompetence
And after two or three years maybe they’ll express remorse
If politicians send a country to war, they directly send their citizens off, perhaps to die. If they close down a youth centre because they can’t fund it, and the kids then go spray paint a wall? Then they’re killing… the sacred dignity of British walls? At least now Moore is recognising that anti-social behaviour in society is not entirely the fault of the kids, but now he’s saying that we should focus all our finding on youth centres (which, nobody goes to those) so we can lock up the unruly in there, with an X-Box. Because the streets are dangerous if we let a diversity of people walk on them.
Subjective reading, of course, but that’s what music invites. Where a comic can specify a point and nail it down tight, music is unmaintainable, expressive, and subjective. When you boil things down, I’m able to read the song as an attack on youth, set against a background of dirge, sung without passion, and angry with no reason behind it. It goes on endlessly, without precision, and rambles onto tangents which offer nothing to the overall narrative.
Hurm. Feels like I might be close to making a literary comparison here, doesn’t it? Ah well, here’s the newest song from One Direction instead. Real music