Type: Song / Date: October 2016
You can spend months or even years slaving over a song or a lyric, but give yourself a deadline and miracles can happen. Because i’d decided to self impose a 36 minute run time on the album and wanted it to be five songs per side (why? who knows) then I basically had about 3 minutes left to fill. Two other songs (Invisible Anchor and Escape Notes) had been chopped and hacked from other ideas, but this was something brand new.
Two tricks I have when wanting to write something quickly; drop-d tuning as everything sounds good, and work to a beat. Nothing inspires me like a beat and I don’t use that as a starting point often enough.
Writing the beat that appears on the record on my drum machine was part one, and the rest came together easily. An intro and chorus in open-d, then a chorus bit that used my favourite go-to chord (some kind of F). I remember it took about 30 minutes. I was getting set to write five more parts, as is the ODAS way, when I realised if I LET THE PARTS REPEAT i’d have a finished song. And then I realised it was quite good, with enough space still to build it up in the studio. It’s rare an ODAS song feels complete with just drum machine and acoustic guitar.
Thematically, the song took a little longer but came out really strong. It is undoubtedly arriving from the very ill state of mind I was in at the time. A point past paranoia where you realise all the crazy shit you logically assumed must be fantasy really was true, and they really were out to get you, and this internal battle as to whether you should stand up for your beliefs and morals, despite it meaning your destruction – a sacrifice no-one will ever be aware even happened – or just, y’know, take the easy road. Let them beat you.
Around that time I was preparing for the launch gig for the When I Loved Music, When Everything Was New single. I needed to do a solo song to fill the set out as we were still learning the new stuff. I worked out two covers – The Future Has Been Here 4 Ever by Manic Street Preachers and Harrowdown Hill by Thom Yorke.
The latter was clearly on my mind, most likely because my version also used the drum machine. I love that song, and I always liked the use of the word ‘ministry’ within it (“Don’t ask me / Ask the ministry / We think the same things at the same time / There are so many of us you can’t count). For me it was a great vision of this faceless bureaucracy, but one that is kind of benign, yet dangerous at the same time.
One of the lines i’d scribbled in my book was “A Message From The Ministry Of Love”, which was the working title as I brought it all together, and this idea of the song being addressed from someone else to the listener. It seems to be a method, to write lyrics for myself from a third party. Here the ministry (i.e. some overseeing power) has hostages… is holding someone or something to ransom.
I knew of the Hammer And Anvil quote: “Suffer or triumph, be the hammer or the anvil” from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and as a concept it reminded me of an episode of The Prisoner called “Hammer Into Anvil”. Watching it back I was amazed how much it mirrored my own personal situation. If you’ve not seen it Number 6 (“I am not a number, I am a free man”, which of course resonates since my surname is Freeman) is a prisoner and every week Number 2, overseer in the village prison, faces off against. him. From Wikipedia:
“Number Two forcibly has Number Six brought to the Green Dome and the two begin a war of nerves. Number Two quotes Goethe: Du mußt Amboß oder Hammer sein (“You must be Anvil or Hammer”). “And you see me as the anvil?” asks Number Six, to which Number Two answers “Precisely. I am going to hammer you.” Already aware that he is being watched by the Village’s hidden camera and spies at every turn, Number Six proceeds to act in a highly suspicious manner, as if he were some sort of spy or double agent.”
Of course, Number 2 has got it the wrong way round. You need to be the anvil. They hammer you and hammer you but ultimately it is the hammer that will break.
I was also reading The Trial by Kafka, about a man being put on trial but he never finds out what for, or why. By then it was all coming together. The ‘be honest or be happy’ line from the notebooks summed it all up perfectly, whilst also feeling like an appropriately totalitarian slogan. As an approach for the rest of lyrics and an extra attitude of delivery, I was definitely thinking of the Baader Menihof album, I’d always loved that approach and I guess I directly steal the use of the words ‘dumb’ and ‘cypher’ from it, but it felt like an update to change ‘we make the cops looks dumb’ to ‘we make the banks looks dumb’.
Overall, it feels like a solid story / situation and expression of the absolute powerlessness that was felt in 2016. From Westgate to the West Wing, from Westminster to the World (damn, I thought of that too late) it seemed Babyboomers in suits had complete control of our fate. I was a Millennial (said with disgust, at best it was patronising), I was a “libtard”, I had no country, not even a continent, and all I’d worked for, led purely by belief in what was right and necessary had gone up in flames after an intense, brain-rotting battle in which any victory could only ever felt pyrrhic. And I’d loved that word since it appeared in PCP by The Manics, but it felt hollow to experience it’s true meaning. Everything was lost.
I felt the ending had to have some hope, so the perspective switches to the ‘us’ of the piece, after hearing all this from the ‘them’. It suggests that they will fall at some point and culture / art is the way we’ll take them down. Hopefully that is true.
We have hostages in the ministry of love
We got hand grenades, we make the banks look dumb
We got your wife on file, we got your head on the block
But that is not a threat; this is a threat
Hammer And Anvil / Be Honest Or Be Happy
Keep your soul pure? It’s embarrassing that you try
Generation How defiled Generation Why
Hammer And Anvil / Be Honest Or Be Happy
We’re armed with nothing but the benefit of doubt
Hammer And Anvil (Don’t Believe) / Be Honest Or Be Happy (Go To Sleep)
We have cyphers in the ministry of culture
And they are preaching your imminent demise
The song was released in March 2017 as a single and appeared on the album The Invisible Anchor in April 2017.