An analysis of the metaphors in Breezeblocks
TL;DR : Listen to Breezeblocks, it’s cooler than liquid nitrogen fudge ice cream.
There are more than a few things that I am obsessed with in music and literature: one of them is metaphors and another is Breezeblocks. Language, inherently, is flawed. It was designed to communicate the thoughts, experiences and understanding of a human being, and has many a times failed to do so accurately. Miscommunication is rampant throughout history, even more so since the advent of instant messaging, resulting in at least a few tragedies. This is becoming increasingly evident in a post-modern understanding of the world and the pain of the limitation of words is known best to writers and orators.
However, it is the inaccuracy that language inherits from flawed human design that makes it an absolutely marvelous tool for artistic expression. Art is chaotic. It releases the trapped natural energies of the human in a structured society and allows us to momentarily indulge ourselves in the uncertainty of existence that we unconsciously battle all our lives. We create an infinite existence and expression within a finite space of a single idea. A fractal of existence. A bit of chaos in the frail structures we create. This is why I am obsessed with metaphorical expression. All art is metaphorical expression and in literature it converts the frailty of subjective lingual interpretation into a spectrum of experience. Music facilitates the metaphorical process like no other art form. Along with the literary function of the lyrics comes the narration of the singer and the added imagery of the instruments allowing the interplay of various elements to create a multitude of experiences. A song can be appreciated from various perspectives. You can take opposing elements and create a haunting image (think Hotel California or Pumped Up Kicks), or take complementary pieces to create calming, beautiful sways (think Diana Krall). One band that makes full use of the metaphorical aspect of music is Alt J. An indie rock band from Leeds, United Kingdom, their songs have multiple layers of messages whose true meanings often elude obsessive fans who spend hours trying to decipher their lyrics. Their hit single Breezeblocks has largely been considered a rather straightforward tale of obsessive love drawing inspiration from Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things are”. However, once art has been released, it is open to interpretation in the public domain and I don’t buy that the song is that simple. The band has shown much to their audience and simplicity is not one of them. The basic theme of the song is obsession and violence, but the expression of obsession and violence changes with perspective and context. Let’s break down the levels the song can work with for an individual. There is a spectrum that exists between the personal and the societal (and then there’s everything outside that spectrum), so I’m going to take three levels for simplicity. The first, is the personal and intrapersonal. The individual is complex and various factors within him (or her) dominate the psyche. The individual is in a continuous dialogue with himself (herself?) and there is a tendency to connect with one aspect more than the other. Therein lies attachment to ambition, hobbies, identity, pain, pleasure or almost every other abstract notion attached to the human. It is inevitable. That is the process of identity formation. However, it is ironic, that in the process of understanding the self and attaching yourself to rigid understanding that the identity becomes frail. We become obsessed with the idea of who we are that we sometimes shatter the idea in its pursuit. The identity literally consumes itself. How many of you have had an existential crisis lately? … Thought so.
It is a sickness. It devours the mind and the self.
The next level is the interpersonal level. This is the common interpretation of the song. An obsessed lover in their attempt to keep the love of their life annihilates their existence. The violence of love destroying both parties involved and bringing it to a close. A fire that burns too hot and “eats you whole”. Here is where the video comes in. Little known fact, the video is called “Murder in Reverse”. Aptly named. The video relates to the song in two ways. The murder weapon is a breezeblock and it has never been clearly stated but it is hinted that the victim of the murder is a former lover who is still obsessed. The video itself deserves its own analysis. I am barely qualified to do so, however, I am entitled to an opinion. While it becomes clearly evident that the video is being played backwards, every frame is shot such that it could just as easily be playing forwards. Other than putting the movement of time into question, this does something very important. It plays on the idea of human recollection. We very frequently remember things backwards. We see events leading backwards and not always forwards. This changes the story being told. It is only towards the end of the video that we realize that the victim was in fact the aggressor. If the original video is seen as being a story being told forwards in time, the story is of scuffle between possible lovers, and the man having to make a choice between the victim and another woman, presumably his wife. He then chooses to walk out on both of them. Another perspective is to see the entire video being the man’s hindsight. Now if the video is seen as a story told in reverse, it plays on the human tendency to blame. The man is seen on the bathroom floor with a dead woman in the bathtub. The automatic assumption is of violence between the sexes and as the video progresses the opinion of a guilty male murderer is further strengthened and it is only in the final minute of the video that we learn who attacked who. However, there have been multiple comments on the internet of the man spurning the woman and thus the woman can be absolved of some guilt. A man involved with two women must surely have somehow called upon the wrath of the fairer sex.
I found this observation very interesting, the tendency of people to hold onto their opinion even if it was proven wrong. Their original opinion qualifies inside an established norm, and the proof against it is extraordinary and to a certain degree extraneous and thus allows them to comfortably revert to their original position. (This was unnecessary but the video deserves adequate mention) What the video did clearly parallel (again, this is my own conjecture) is something similar to an addiction. The way the man sits on the bathroom floor, minus the dead woman, is very reminiscent of addicts of various substances. The violence that ensues in the video is a violence between the person and his addiction. At the end when we see the wife tied up, it reminded me of a normal life violently disrupted by a past folly. Love is a drug, but is it oh so sweet. Like any other substance it can wreak havoc.
It dulls the senses and cures us of the mundane but at what cost?
The final level, and the level I find the most interesting, is the one that operates on a much grander scale. The song to me is a metaphor for the relationship between an autocratic government and its rebellious people. To me the lyrics could not fit any better. Notice how certain rhyming elements in the song progress. Cetirizine, Morphine and then Germolene. This progression, or escalation of substances is extremely important. Small acts against the government like petitions, political lobbying, and anti-government all start as small rebellious outcries against those in power. It may or may not have an impact, it’s a minor setback to the government. They have solutions for these dissenting voices. Propagandist education, legal barriers to collective action or gatherings, maybe even covert suppression. It’s a bit like medicine used to cure a mild sickness. Medicines that only cure symptoms, however, have a tendency to only worsen the condition unless the cause is tackled. This leads to more verbose insurrections that require a literal silencing of the people. Stricter laws are established, the police are empowered and any dissidents are silenced. Quite like a pain killer taking away the pain forcefully but not doing anything whatsoever to heal. It leads the forces in power to simply believe that the problem is gone away because they can’t see it anymore. Finally, when the opposition has not be adequately handled and only suppressed, there is an overspill and thus begins the insurrection. “Revolution”, this article is not going to debate on the subjectivity of that term, however, it applies. “Germolene” here has two distinct meanings: the metaphorical and the literally. The government metaphorically disinfects the population, there is a large scale response to the dissenting population. The government, also has to literally then disinfect the country. The battles are crime scenes that the government needs to cover up. It needs to return everything to normalcy and that means making sure it looked like not even a fly died.
Blind to what they were doing, the smell of blood will never go away.