I’d been waiting for a new APC album for over a decade. Maynard has always been one of my favorite vocalists, but his lyrics have also been life-changing for me. I can remember specific instances in my life where they came into play heavily. That is why I’m spotlighting “Eat the Elephant”, as I find this album to have some of the bluntest, most timely lyrics that I’ve heard in years.
1. Eat the Elephant
“Looming, omnipresent/This task ahead/ This task at hand”. The album begins with a statement of willpower and commitment, but also of intent, in my opinion. I’ve seen the idea behind “Eat the Elephant” discussed online quite a bit, and I’m going to interpret it two different ways.
First of all, Maynard has mentioned that is has to do with the idea of “eating the elephant one bite at a time”. This generally refers to the idea of tackling a monumental problem one step at a time. This opening track is specifically using this idea to introduce Maynard’s forthcoming examination of the problems in today’s society. He’s asking us to start fixing our world one step at a time, rather than ruminate over it or argue about it online. We have to start somewhere.
Secondly, though, I like the idea of bringing the “elephant in the room” concept into play. Maynard is unapologetically blunt on this album, and he brings up the “elephants” in our societal room that no one wants to discuss; or possibly those things that everyone talks about, but no one seems to fix. On this album, Maynard forces us to “eat” those elephants. We cannot ignore the injustice, hypocrisy, and brokenness any longer.
So, either way that you decide to view this phrase, the point remains the same: This world needs repairs, and we are the ones to fix it. We cannot stand here frozen any longer. “Just take the step/ Just Take the swing/ Just take the bite/ Just go all in”.
One thing I like about this album is the surprisingly hopeful nature of the lyrics. While Maynard digs deeply into our lives with his lyrics, he takes us on a journey out of our problems, rather than simply decrying the state of things. “Disillusioned” is a case in point for this.
Maynard first sets the stage: Dopamine/ On dopamine/ We have been overrun by our animal desire/ Addicts of the immediate keep us obedient and unaware/ Feeding this mutation, this Pavlovian despair”. The song is most obviously about our addiction to social media and the thirst for immediacy that those little red notifications have caused. Dopamine, if you didn’t know, is a chemical in our brains that has strong connections to rewards-based behavior, i.e., Pavlov’s dogs. Our phones and social media have created animalistic behaviors within us as we ever seek the approval and attention of the masses. Here we are in a dark, lonely nightmare, and that little bright screen has our undivided attention.
While that might sound a bit crazy, the research is tight and well founded. Every feature from the sounds your phone makes to the red color of the notifications is designed to grab your attention and to release chemicals in your brain that bring satisfaction and happiness, but they also cause addiction and anxiety when those things are not happening according to expectations. It’s scary, but feels so good that we all still use it daily.
“Time to put the silicon obsession down/ Take a look around, find a way in the silence/ Lie supine away with your back to the ground/ Dis- and re-connect to the resonance now/ You were never an island”. Like I said, Maynard doesn’t leave us in that restless social media race. He asks us to put our phones down. He asked us to look around at the world we have: the world of which we are a part. It’s time to connect with the Earth and with each other. It’s time to stop the relentless arguments and popularity contests. It’s time to unite to take care of our problems. We are not alone, no matter how much we may believe that we are. We are one, and we need to remember that.
3. The Contrarian
Maynard continues his social media theme on “The Contrarian”. While it’s not totally concerned with social media, these “contrarians” can be found online more than anywhere else. “Hello, he lied/ Like velvet this magician’s sleight of tongue and hand/ Hello, he lied/ Beware, belie his smile/ As warm and calculated as heroin/ Beware the Contrarian”.
Maynard throws us for a loop here, though. We all shake our heads about this type of person, but Maynard comes right out and says, “Within everyone/ A scale, a voice”, meaning that he’s talking about everyone. Some of us follow the temptation of that voice more than others, but we all have it within us.
These contrarians can never agree with anyone. They have to analyze everyone to find flaws of some type, however minute. You’ll see these people pop up in social media arguments where they are basically agreeing with the post, but they have to make a point of contention somehow, even if it’s just the grammar. These people don’t practice anything they preach, they don’t know as much as they believe, and they have no solutions, only complaints. “…Everyone but him/ Core is black as pitch/ Soul is out of tune/ Advocate of none”. The point, then, is to make us aware of this modern human tendency, and to fight back.
4. The Doomed
“Behold a new Christ/ Behold the same old horde/ Gather at the altering/ New beginning, new word/ And the word was death/ And the word was without light/ The new beatitude: Good luck, you’re on your own”. Maynard starts to step on my own toes a bit in “The Doomed”. Well, that might not be true. He actually reflects my own feelings towards Christianity as a whole. I am a Christian, but I generally might surprise most people with my perspectives on various issues and especially on the behavior of Christians as a whole.
I’m actually struggling to put into words how this song makes me feel. I was brought up in an extremely conservative Christian family. In fact, music in general was not allowed in my family, which is quite ironic. As I look back, it is obvious that my family placed inconsequential acts of holiness, like avoiding music or reading our Bibles, ahead of the needs of those all around us. This runs exactly contrary to what Jesus actually asked his followers to do and be in this world.
This is the basic idea behind “The Doomed”. Maynard was also raised in a conservative Christian home, though it seems that his journey away from those beliefs was caused by the circles of people he knew, not necessarily his own parents. Maynard actually grew up about 5 minutes from where I was raised, so I feel a connection to his feelings on this topic.
What are the results? Christians, the ones who are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this broken world, end up being the ones who oppress and take advantage of the very ones they are here to serve. They end supporting those people who do the most damage, too. “Blessed are the fornicates/ May we bend down to be their whores/ Blessed are the rich/ May we labour, deliver them more/ Blessed are the envious/ Bless the slothful, the wrathful, the vain/ Blessed are the gluttonous/ May they feast us to famine and war”.
This entire song is one big reference to the Beatitudes that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was offering a look at what a follower of God should strive to be in this life. In today’s society, it feels like Christians strive to be the exact opposite; elevating riches, comfort, guns, and capitalism above all else. It’s this American brand of evangelical Christian that I so detest, as it rapes and pillages the peoples and lands of this world. The people that they are meant to serve are left in the dust.
“Doomed are the poor/ Doomed are the peaceful/ Doomed are the meek/ Doomed are the merciful/ For the word is now death/ And the word is now without light/ The new beatitude: Fuck the doomed, you’re on your own”.
5. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
The next track is “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, which has been pointed out ad nauseam as a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book series from Douglas Adams. In the books, the dolphins have left Earth as they sense incoming man-made destruction. In this song, however, the focus is on three things that will be very familiar to us all.
First, the main idea here is the death of celebrities. Maynard is pretty blunt here, stating “Time is money and money’s time/ We wasted every second dime/ On diets, lawyers, shrinks and apps and flags and plastic surgery/ Now Willy Wonka, Major Tom, Ali, and Leia have moved on/ Signal the final curtain call in all its atomic pageantry”. In other words, he is indicting the rich and popular of the Earth as they spend and waste their lives away, never accomplishing anything with all the sway and power that they have. Their lives end, and they return to dust just like anyone else.
Second, though, I feel like this song indicts our treatment of and feelings about celebrities. We elevate and celebrate them, even in their careless and crass behavior. These celebrities end up living life like it is some sort of stage, and that is partly because we applaud their every move.
Lastly, there is a bigger, more universal theme here. We can discuss celebrities and all that, but the overall idea is that we all waste our lives as the final curtain draws near. We don’t focus on the good we can do or the legacy we can leave. We live here and now and for the fun of it, even as the Earth wanes and our hope for the future dissolves before our eyes. So, while there is definitely an indictment of specific groups of people in this song, I feel like it is ultimately a message to humanity about the wastefulness and emptiness of our lives. And the dolphins are going to move on soon.
Maynard continues his indictment of Christianity in “TalkTalk”, though I feel like America in general is still the target. This song very specifically addresses the problem of “thoughts and prayers” as a response to tragedies, especially school shootings, I assume. You know what I mean. Some crazy white guy shoots a bunch of kids, and most of the Internet reacts with thoughts and prayers, even though what we really need is immediate action. “You’re waiting (you’re waiting …)/ On miracles (on miracles …)/ We’re bleeding out (bleeding out …)/ Thoughts (thoughts …)/ And prayers (prayers …)/ Adorable (crisis …)/ Like cake in a crisis (in a crisis …)/ We’re bleeding out (bleeding out …)/ While you deliberate/ Bodies accumulate”.
Besides thoughts and prayers, you’ll also see all-out brawls on social media about the issues. We continue our massive circle jerk online, and nothing ever gets solved. Maynard has some strong points about social media throughout this record, and this might be the best one of all.
Like I said, though, Maynard targets Christians specifically here, which I appreciate. He clamors on about faith without works being dead, which is a reference directly to James 2:17, but the chorus itself is the most damning: “Sit and talk like Jesus/ Try walkin’ like Jesus/ Sit and talk like Jesus/ Talk like Jesus/ Talk talk talk talk/ Get the fuck out of my way!!!” That part always gives me a rush of emotion as my heart sings in agreement.
I believe in a God that has given his people a task. That task is to make this world a better place while He renews all things in his own timing. I don’t believe that the response to tragedy should be prayer alone, but should instead be Spirit-led action primarily. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 1:7 which reads, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control”. Another translation says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. I like that version even better. The basic idea is that, like the characters in A Wrinkle in Time, Christians are supposed to possess the light of the Almighty God inside them, and that is supposed to spur action with power because of our love for people and this world. All of this is supposed to be done with a sound mind, which means not with emotional outbursts, but with logical action.
I feel very passionate about these things because I can think of an example in my own life. As my wife and I suffered 6 miscarriages, Christians were the ones that seemed to care the least. They’d say, “We’re praying for you”, or some such bullshit, but wouldn’t help out physically in any way, shape, or form; and I’m guessing that they probably forgot about their promise of prayer almost immediately. Christians are really bad about the little sayings they offer, like “God bless you” or “God-willing”, but those words are vacuous and meaningless without action. They “talktalk” like Jesus, but they often don’t walk the walk of Christ. In a world that needs love and light, the ones who are supposed to have those things are missing in action.
7. By and Down the River
Maynard continues the themes from “So Long, and Thanks for the All the Fish” on “By and Down the River”. The main idea here is the disillusionment we have when someone we adore, such as a celebrity, is revealed in all their flaws and wickedness. Perhaps this song was written about someone specifically. Maybe it was written about Maynard himself from the eyes of his fans. I’m not sure.
“Moving in and out of the shadows/ It’s no easy mission/ Holding on to how I picture you”. The primary concept stays the same, no matter whom it was written for specifically. When we elevate people for all the wrong reasons, we can be hit with disbelief, depression, and confusion when the light finally brings them out the shadows.
What’s even worse, though, is the fact that these people often have no sense of guilt or sorrow. There are so many people that come to mind here, but I’ll pick on Bill Cosby. My family watched his shows as I was growing up, and I even remember my parents having some of his books. He was considered this amazing family man, and I really looked up to him. Now that I think about it, I never really knew anything about him, though.
There’s a distinction that needs to be made here: It’s one thing to watch a saint fall. It’s an entirely different matter to discover that they were not a saint the entire time. Seeing who Bill truly has been all this time has been an eye-opening, sorrowful experience for me. And you know what? He doesn’t seem to be all that sorry for what he’s done. “Searching your eyes for a hint or trace of it/ Searching your eyes for humility/ Searching your eyes for a hint or a trace/ I’m still searching, searching”.
Maynard continues his thoughts about the fall of celebrities and idols on “Delicious”. The song falls perfectly, and represents more of an abstract feeling than a collection of meaningful lyrics. On top of that, the song is quite sarcastic in tone.
“How inconvenient and unexpected and harrowing for you/ As consequences tend to be”. When an idol falls, we often hear their sob story about all that they are experiencing. Maynard points out that consequences usually fit the crime, and that there is nothing inconvenient or unexpected about that. In fact, it would unexpected for depravity not to have appropriate consequences.
The concept behind the title of this song is that the fall and consequences due to an idol are simply delicious for the rest of us to watch. Perhaps it is not good thing to gloat over something like that, but there is something built into us that longs for justice to be served. I believe that justice is part of the image of God in us, and that is why someone getting what they truly deserve can feel so much like “poetic justice”. On the other hand, it makes me fear getting what I truly deserve. In the end, should I really be savoring the dread of someone who falls from their pedestal, when I may be standing at the top of mine, too, getting ready to fall?
The instrumental track “DLB” represents the turning of a page in the “Eat the Elephant” album. You may recall that I previously stated that Maynard seems to be presenting issues, but then also offering solutions. That is exactly what this song represents.
“DLB” stands for “Don’t Look Back”. We all come to a point where we know our problems; and, instead of continuing to ruminate over them, we feel the time has come to look forward and get to work on the solution. This track is a segue from the problems presented in the first eight tracks on the album to the solutions offered in the final three. The time has come to roll up our sleeves.
And now we come to one of the more obscure songs on the album, “Hourglass”. The overall purpose of the song is quite clear: It’s all about the ticking countdown towards destruction in the USA (or maybe the whole world) as our problems drag us under the waves. However, most people can’t seem to agree on the specific words in the lyrics. I’ll give it a shot.
“Red flag red, all the sentinels are dead/ The Tokyo kitty, swallow, rose, and canary/ Tick tick tick, do you recognize the sounds as the grains count down?/ Trickle down right in front of you”. The song begins by declaring how numb we all are. The sands of the hourglass are spilling through the hole, but we are completely unaware since all forecasters of our doom, the “sentinels”, are dead. Some people think that the statement is that “Tokyo kitty swallowed rose and canary”, but that doesn’t make much sense. Instead, I think Maynard is listing specific sentinels that have been killed by our collective ignorance.
I saw one particularly good explanation online, and some of it made sense, though I’ve tweaked it with my own thoughts. The Tokyo kitten is a sign of a luck and a good visitor to come. The swallow is a symbol of love, faith, and hope. The rose is a sign of new beginnings, and I would also add that it is a sign of beauty and balance. And the canary is a sign of light, joy, and illumination. In short, then, Maynard is claiming that luck, faith, balance, and light are all dead in this depraved society we inhabit. We are all desensitized to the darkness that envelopes us.
He goes on to indict the political scene in the US as “plutocrats (power through wealth), oligarchs (power consolidated into a few), republicrats (Rebublicans + Democrats = same thing), aristocrats (power through birth), and cenocrats (people clamoring for new government)” all solve nothing, and any hope left in the hourglass is fading quickly while the politicians continue to argue and seek their own welfare. Even more than that, these polticians themselves are the ones gleefully destroying our sentinels, and the hourglass is being destroyed little by little.
“You tickle tickle tickle, all your neck hairs prickle/ As they barbecue the sentinels, and eat them right in front of you/ Hourglass smash, a million little pieces/ They count down, carry on, five, four, three, two”.
Maynard’s focus shifts to us as the populace on “Feathers”. He recognizes the pain, struggle, war, and awfulness of this life. He recognizes and even identifies with the burden that these things are on our hearts. “Weight of words and wars we carry/ I’m like you, just like you/ Eyes of secret, storm and story/ Show and tell, we’ll make it through”. He sees how heavy these things are, and he assures us that we can do this: We can make this work.
But he notices a problem. The sadness and weight of our human experience has caused us to create “armor”, which is understandable. It has caused us to build walls of “stone” between our hearts and the people around us. We have to loose our bonds and tear down our own walls if we want changes to happen. We can blame everything else for our problems, but there are things that we must change, too.
The solution? Maynard asks, “By the telling will they become/ Will they all be feathers?” Similar to the message of Pink Floyd’s “The Division Bell”, the solution is to talk. While Floyd would say to “keep talking”, Maynard maintains that we aren’t really talking at all in the first place. We’ve put up walls and strapped on armor, and we keep our precious words to ourselves. In the end, until we begin to talk through our problems courteously and civilly, nothing can change for the better. But if we talk, oh, how our burdens will flutter away like feathers, no more to burden us!
12. Get the Lead Out
The album ends with a track that is again more abstract, offering feelings more than a specific message. “Get the Lead Out” is about the process of ridding ourselves of the dead weight and impurities in our society. That useless “lead” is dragging us down, causing instability, and keeping us from climbing the mountain of human potential and unity.
“We’ve got places to be/ We’ve got mountains to climb/ Shape the rainbow with me/ Owe me so much time/ Get the lead out/ Suck it up, buttercup”. The question, at this point, is what exactly constitutes the lead in our society? The rest of the album answers this, presenting politicians, hypocrites, contrarians as easy answers. It’s more than that, as specific behaviors, such as social media addiction, are weighing us down, too. So, it’s a matter of ridding ourselves of certain people, I suppose, but I believe it is more about altering our own destructive behavior, and that includes each and every one of us. It starts with us.
“Not one to dawdle, got/ No time to coddle you/ No time to coddle you/ No time/ Chit-chat, chit-chat/ Ain’t got time for that”.