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The New Kings

Introduction: In a pre-release PR piece from label earMUSIC, the song was described as follows, "The New Kings looks at the ravening beast that modern capitalism seems to have evolved into."

In an interview for Prog magazine,
h said, "This is really a song about how the old systems of democracy have become overwhelmed and compromised by money and corporations. Along with the fact that the division between rich and poor is widening all the time. [...] There’s also a healthy sprinkling of tax evasion and a kind of overall loss of faith in what this country represents to me."

In an interview for SongFacts,
h said, "The lyrical inspiration is the failure of the banks, the way the CEOs walked away, having been rewarded for the mistakes they made.

"It's also about the Russian oligarchs. In 1989, there was no money in Russia, and not that long after, there are now God knows how many billionaires buying up Geneva, Monaco, and London, and our football teams. You've got to wonder how much of that money is straight.

"The New Kings is also about the compromise of our democracies by big money - the influence of big money and the corporations on our systems of government. I guess it's worse in America, because you can't even run for the presidency unless you're fabulously wealthy. At least in the UK, it's not a given - ordinary people can rise to those heady levels of power."

He added that the song was "a reaction to the financial meltdown in the Western economy a few years back. Bear in mind, most of these words have been around for three or four years now, so that was a reaction to a protest to the people that presided over that financial catastrophe, and then kind of resigned and walked off into the sunset with huge bonuses paid to them by the banks that they have destroyed. And how is that fair, when the little guys have to pick up the pieces?

"Here in the UK, two or three of the banks were nationalized and the taxpayer then collectively took on those debts, which the taxpayer hadn't created, whilst CEOs of those same banks moved quietly to Monaco and became fabulously rich. So, somebody should say something about that, and that someone is me.

"This is our 18th album. We're at a point where I don't know how many more albums we're going to make, so I've decided that it is time to pin my colours to the mast and say things that I feel are important, rather than write another love song. So when I sing "fuck everyone and run" in The New Kings, I'm singing it in falsetto - very quietly and tenderly. And sadly. What I'm really saying is, "This seems to be the prevailing mood in the world at the moment, and isn't it a shame? Isn't it sad that it's come to this?"

"What sounds like an angry, almost punk statement when you hear it, it actually isn't. It's in many ways quite the reverse. It's sung in sadness rather than in anger."

'Buying up London from Monaco'
The Principality of Monaco is a haven for tax exiles located in the south of France. London property prices have been greatly inflated by foreign investors from places such as Monaco and Russia. Many of their properties remain empty.

Possibly a reference to Monaco resident Sir Philip Green, whose Arcadia Group includes Topshop, Topman, Wallis, Evans, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, and Outfit. The group used to include BHS (British Home Stores), purchased in 2000 for £200m, but sold in 2015 for £1 with debts of £1.3bn, including a pensions deficit of £571m. Green and his family collected £586m in dividends from BHS during the term of Arcadia's ownership. In 2016, BHS was put into administration with the UK taxpayer looking likely to plug some of the pensions deficit. Green was made to appear before a joint Business and Work and Pensions select committee meeting in June 2016 to explain why the business had failed.

'We do as we please While you do as you're told'
Possibly a reference to the song from So, Peter Gabriel's 1986 album, We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37), which was about the famous experiment concerning obedience to authority figures run in the 1960s by social psychologist Stanley Milgram.

The experiment was designed to investigate whether people have an inclination to follow orders even when they know that their actions will lead to harm. Milgram wanted to understand whether the claims of Nazi soldiers that they were 'just following orders' held water.

Subjects were led to believe they were conducting a test on an individual in another room, seeing whether administering shocks would assist in helping them to memorise word lists. An administrator would encourage the subject to give higher and higher levels of shock even though it was understood that the shocks would be extremely painful and even dangerous. In one variant of the test where the test subject read out questions into a microphone, but did not administer the 'shocks', 37 out of 40 subjects continued to ask the questions despite knowing the severity of the shocks supposedly being delivered.

In fact, no shocks were administered. The person in the other room was an actor pretending to have been electrocuted.

'Fuck everyone and run'
If it isn't obvious, the band have been clear that 'fuck' is meant in the sense of disregard for everyone else, rather than to have sex with them! According to h, he first heard the phrase and the acronym 'FEAR' while visiting the Dutch doctor that had inspired Happiness Is The Road.

'Tony, not Anthony ...suitably masked'
A reference to former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, winner of three successive UK general elections (1997, 2001, and 2005). Blair was what is termed 'soft left', or a centrist and a devotee to 'the third way', a position that seeks a middle path between liberal capitalism and democratic socialism. He was responsible for leading the UK into the controversial 2003 war on Iraq. The Chilcott Inquiry into the legality of that war was delivered in July 2016 and was scathing about Blair's involvement.

Subsequent to his resignation in 2007 in the face of mounting criticism over his behaviour in the Iraq War and falling approval ratings, Blair forged a successful career as an advisor to banks and energy firms, as a property owner and a private speaker. His personal fortune was estimated by the Daily Telegraph as in excess of £60m in 2015.

'Nassau Bahamas, Geneva, Luxembourg questions asked'
Nassau, capital city of the Bahamas, Geneva, centre of Switzerland's financial industry and Luxembourg are all tax havens, often used by the rich to hide assets in order to avoid tax that would be due if invested domestically.

'the bums on the street'
An American expression similar to hobo or tramp. Technically, a hobo travels looking for work, a tramp travels but doesn't seek work and a bum neither travels nor works. 'Bum' derives from the German verb bummeln, which means 'to loaf around' or 'saunter'.

'Or the mums on the game'
Refers to mothers working as prostitutes. 'On the game' derives from a 17th century expression 'wench of the game'; Shakespeare used the term in All's Well That Ends Well (circa 1602).

'We're too big to fail... And when we do, It's down to you'
'Too big to fail' is an American expression coined in 1984 by U.S. Congressman Stewart McKinney when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was forced to bail out the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company, then the largest bank failure in US history.

The expression was used repeatedly during the global financial crisis of 2008 - onwards with respect to describe institutions whose collapse would be so catastrophic that they must be supported by government (i.e. the tax payer).

'We are the new Kings, We had the keys to Old Russia's locked doors'
A reference to how Russia embraced capitalism following the fall of communism. In the Prog interview h said, "In 1989 there wasn’t any money in Russia as everybody owned it all. Within 10 years, there were some people who were ludicrously rich. I mean, how can you do that legitimately? The only people in Russia who had the cunning and sharpness to become businessmen were the politburo scumbags at the top. They controlled everything and had the keys to the locked doors where the money was."

'Greed is good...'
The catchphrase of Michael Douglas's Gordon Gecko in the movie Wall Street. Intended as a cautionary tale about unrestrained capitalism, Gecko's character inspired many to take up a career in stockbroking.

'We sold your council houses, not to you, but the banks'
The UK's 'Right to Buy' scheme was enacted by the Housing Act 1980. It allowed secure tenants of councils and some housing associations the right to buy their home - typically on a mortgage raised from a bank - at a substantial discount. About 1.5 million homes in the UK have been sold in this manner since 1980.

Supporters say it allowed millions to gain a substantial asset and a foot on the housing ladder and decreased local authority debts by the sale value being passed direct to the treasury. Critics of the scheme argue that commercially and socially valuable council assets were sold below market value or replacement cost, that the remaining stock was in undesirable areas with little employment further isolating the tenants, and that speculating investors used 'deferred transaction agreements' to purchase property, leading to rising property costs.

'Oceans of money high in the clouds'
A reference to the virtual and trans-global nature of money and cloud computing systems.

'More often than not, it'll trickle down...'
Trickle down economics is the populist interpretation of the idea that as high income earners gain an increase in salary, their increased income and wealth filter down to the rest of society. It is not a formal economic theory.

The term originated during the Great Depression. The humourist Will Rogers is often attributed as the coiner of the term when he said, "Money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy."

'On your knees, peasant, and kiss this ring'
During the 18th and 19th century, to kiss someone's signet ring was a pledge of loyalty. It is now largely replaced by the more egalitarian handshake.

'Ring' is also slang for the anal sphincter.

'"We saw the crash on the news today ...oh boy'
A reference to the opening line of A Day In The Life on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). The lyric, by John Lennon is, "I read the news today, oh boy..." 

'Flyin' high in a scary sky'

Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky) is the third song from Marvin Gaye's 1971 album What's Going On. Flyin' High is about vets' problems with heroin addiction, its title a play on the United Airlines slogan, 'flying in the friendly skies'.

'What's going on?'

Another a reference to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. The concept piece details a returning Vietnam veteran's dismay at the state of his nation, seeing only hatred, suffering and injustice.

'Believed in the school song'
Largely a tradition in the English-speaking world or Britain's former colonies, school songs for a school are analogous to a national anthem to a country.

'die for your country [...] If it ever was more than a lie'
Likely a reference to the Wilfred Owen war poem Dulce et Docorum Est (1916-18). The poem uses vivid imagery of a chlorine gas attack in the trenches to attack those back in the UK that promoted the idea that it is sweet and honourable to die for one's own country ('dulce et decorum est pro patria mori'), a sentiment Owen derides as 'the old lie'.
Dulce et Decorum est - Wilrfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

'All in it together?'
The phrase was uttered by George Osborne, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer (11 May 2010 - 13 July 2016) to indicate that the United Kingdom government austerity programme would require sacrifices from everyone. It was widely mocked and satirised when it became clear that the banks that had precipitated the global financial crash were bailed out and left to carry on much as they had before while the taxpayer paid for it and was subjected to austerity measures that have greatly affected public services and further impoverished the least well-off.

The plane noise (circa 14:03)
The plane noise panning across the stereo field as the lyrics hark back to an earlier, more innocent age where good and bad were more clearly defined is that of a Supermarine Spitfire, more commonly referred to as just a Spitfire. The Merlin engine is unmistakable.

'A national anthem you could sing without feeling used or ashamed'

Possibly a reference to Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition 2015-2020. Democratic socialist Corbyn was widely criticised in the press for failing to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain memorial service in September 2015.

'You poor sods have only yourselves to blame'
'Sod', originally derived from 'sodomite', is an English term that has largely lost the homophobic connotations, and which now means an unfortunate person.

Song Listing:

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. The following comment was deleted by some weird Blogger snafu. Apologies.

    Great commentary, as ususal. I have one issue though with your comment that: " became clear that the banks that had precipitated the global financial crash were bailed out and left to carry on much as they had before..."

    I can assure you that the UK banking sector has had an upheaval in regulations and capital requirements since the crash. This is to ensure bail outs are not required in the future. They certainly are not "left to carry on much as they had before". I think it's also worth pointing out that people who owned the failed UK banks (i.e. the shareholders) lost the vast majority of the money they had invested. I think it is perhaps fairer to say that the public were outraged that the people in charge of the failed banks seems to walk away from the situation without any personal accountability and remaining very wealthy, while the main victims were people reliant on state aid which was cut as a result of austerity measures after the crash.

    MK86 Veteran

  2. I doubt that "A national anthem you could sing without feeling used or ashamed" is about Jeremy Corbyn. More likely its a comment on our disenfranchisement with our country and how it's hard to have pride in a country anymore. Particularly when right wingers use nationalism in such a confrontational way.

    1. That's certainly true, but the Explanations doesn't try to explain what the songs are about per se (even though that's exactly what it ends up doing some times), but try and shine a little light on what individual words and phrases in the lyrics mean. When the album came out it was suggested by a number of people this line might be a reference to Corbyn, and with h's habit of lyrics having three layers of meaning, I felt it was possible.

      However, it is also true that when I had the opportunity to speak to h about it (after this entry was published) he said that many of the lyrics that might have seen to be references to particular incidents that were then very current were merely coincidence and then joked about being 'Hogstradamus'.

  3. I got the impression that the 'crash' referred to in Scary Skies is specifically that of Flight MH17, apparently shot down over Ukraine. The cause of the crash has of course been subject to much 'fake news' manipulation, hence the later lyrics.

    1. Yes, I agree with this assertion. The closeness to a song referring to Russia is likely no accident either. I remember how the Russian officials created a new story every few days, all similarly unlikely.


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