Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Guided Tour of Riot Act: Half Full

(A Guided Tour of Riot Act)

1/2 FULL

½ Full is a great example of how track listing matters. If this song closes the album it is much easier to read Riot Act as a positive, hopeful record—a dark journey that sees light at the end. Musically there is a muscular playfulness to the song, and it sounds like they’re having a great time recording the song. It lacks the seriousness and the weight found in Red Mosquito (its sister song musically), almost as if to say ‘fuck it’. There is a sense in which the music tells us not to take it all so personally, that our problems aren’t quite as weighty or troubling as we think they are. It is almost dismissive—reminiscent of a line at the end of Avenue Q (“George Bush…is only for now”). There’s no dawn in ½ Full, but there’s a willingness to say up all night drinking until it comes. We may be in the midst of the blackouts of Bu$hleaguer, but there’s nothing that stops us from singing until the lights are turned back on. If Riot Act ends here we have a different record.

But of course it doesn’t, and the lyrical content undermines the abandon of the music. ½ Full is, like so much of Riot Act, a document of defeat, and the music is just an attempt to shield us from its reality. There’s a few things to notice here. For starters, the scope is much larger than the rest of Riot Act. This isn’t a song about the self, the community, or even the nation. It’s a song about the state of the world, that the smoldering, ruined domain of Kings Bush and Cheney that grace the cover may be much larger than we think. Riot Act was written in 2002 and Eddie was likely still under the sway of Daniel Quinn, as there are important elements of his thought in the lyrics. The song starts out affirming our own comparative insignificance—the reminder that in the grand scheme of our planetary history we don’t matter all that much, and this moment doesn’t matter all that much, as well as the implicit condemnation that we put ourselves at risk when we forget that. It’s an indictment of our hubris as a people, and of Bush and company in particular (the rich and powerful and their insatiable, restless desire for more, and their willingness to use and abuse the rest of us in their attempt to acquire it).

But at the same time ½ Full is a fight song. There is no middle anymore. You have to take a side. You have to commit. You must be willing to take responsibility for the world we’ve made and the world we want to live in. In this respect ½ Full is more a call to arms than the call to apathy that is so tempting in dark times.

Therefore, the last lyrics become critically important, and undermine both the optimism in the music and the need for engagement in the lyrics. There is a broad recognition that something has gone wrong and something needs to be done, but there is also no agency. At the critical moment, at the last high point on the record, Eddie retreats. The world needs to be saved for sure, but SOMEONE else needs to do it. I can’t. So ½ Full becomes less about action and more about faith—a hope that someone else will come along and do what needs to be done because we no longer have any confidence in our ability to save ourselves. We’re left with nothing but a blind sort of desperate hope for salvation because we’ve lost faith in ourselves.

Can't Keep
Save You
Love Boat Captain
I Am Mine
Thumbing My Way
You Are
Get Right
Green Disease
Help Help
1/2 Full
All Or None