Low fat canned meat
Said I won
I hate you
Low fat Limeys
Unseen knowledge (2)
Low Fat Limeys
I bite into
A mad sinner
I lost the plot
Into the hill
Into the hill
Into the hill
Into the hill
On facts, on facts, on facts
I had two broken bottles
I had two brown bottles
And a white nose as I entered
Five years of confinement (3)
This is the story that unfolded
As it went on into the sea of
Unseen footage and
Chicory Tip in a shopping centre (4)
With a soundtrack again
All is beyond
Our equity your future, again
Incensed, Das Boat (5)
Robin Redbreast (6)
In my fate again
He is going
1. Dan remarks: "There's an Islamic concept, called "Al-Ghaib," sometimes translated as "unseen knowledge," which means something that is known only to Allah."
MES gives us more than we usually get in this interview, although he characeristically escapes by way of a non sequitur before he says too much:
In "Cowboy George" there are lyrics about "unseen knowledge, unseen forces". Is that about mortality? Death? The other side?
That’s, uh, very much sort of the case. That’s one of the tracks that was a first or second take. We done it about 100 times since in the studio, and as we listened to it before we did the final cut, said, "That is the best one." I don’t even know what I’m saying really, because I’m still on medication from the wheelchair. [laughter] Heavy German medication, you know. Which I’m not used to. But it’s still the same lyrics. And it captures it more, I think. It is a bit mystical, that one, yeah.
"Very much sort of" sums it up!
The Story of the Fall aptly calls this a "surf cum spaghetti Western vibe"; in that respect, it's a cousin of "Chino" and "Hittite Man." This one oddly dissolves into a gloppy keyboard coda that doesn't end anywhere near as soon as you think it will, taking up almost half the song. I think of it as musically portraying a step into the region of "unseen knowledge" mentioned in the lyrics, although I have no idea if it was intended that way.
You've got Pete, that's who Cowboy George is, who is into really weird rockabilly. And then you've got the rhythm section who are really into Motorhead and shit like that and then you've got Eleanor who's into German experimental stuff. It's a nice combination.
Musically there is a resemblance to "Jack the Ripper" by Link Wray.
Cabrini Green may have cracked the mystery of Cowboy George:
"Episode 16, Season 4 of The A-Team, entitled "Cowboy George": Face books Boy George, instead of Cowboy George, to sing at a Country and Western bar near an oil pipeline; to keep the locals happy, Hannibal pretends to be Cowboy George. Boy George assists the team. Would be hilarious if this tune was inspired by that!"
Meanwhile, Mike Smith suggests:
"Despite MES ID'ing Pete as Cowboy George, I can't help connecting the name George with the 'Unseen facts,' etc., (the "unknown knowns" statement from Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense) and coming up with George W. Bush, under whom Rumsfeld served. Is 'George' characterized as a cowboy owing to acts like invading foreign countries, confining prisoners unseen in military prisons, and being a former Governor of Texas? 'Into the hills' calls to mind images of al-Qaeda hideouts in the hills of Afghanistan, literally in caves..."
P Hogg points out that this song sounds a bit like "Pushin' Too Hard" (slowed down, here) by the Seeds (note that MES calls out (Sky, presumably) "Saxon" at the end of "Weather Report 2").
MES is slurry on this one, and some of the above lyrics may be wrong.
2. Despite what MES says in note 1, it strikes me as odd to characterize death in terms of "unseen facts." There are different kinds of mystery, and, in general, "unseen facts" is a little bit odd of a phrase for the Fall, as it implies something that can be known but merely isn't known yet. The spaghetti Western vibe comes through on "unseen hills."
I dreamt that these lines were from a TV theme song, which I identified and put in my notes...I was very happy until I woke up and realized that it was all a dream. I think this chorus is more perplexing to me than it needs to be; for some reason it doesn't go down easy for me. In any case, in this song's companion piece, "Cowboy Gregory," we learn that the "unseen knowledge" may be a "pack of shit," a typical (and refreshingly deflating) equivocation.
3. Compare "The Joke," whose narrator spends "five years in a PC camp." Several readers have suggested that this is a reference to his marriage with Brix. Brownsocketspurpleeyes called my attention to this quote from the NME, where Brix tells of first meeting MES:
"After the show I decided to venture downstairs to the bar, an insecure teenager on her own, and I literally smacked into Mark Smith. He had a bottle of beer in each hand and white powder coming out of his nose."
Brix and MES were married on July 19th, 1983 and split up some time in 1989, so the timing is more or less correct.
Note that if the song is about Peter Greenway, as MES has suggested (see note 1 above), he had been in the band roughly five years at this point, although this seems less likely to be the primary reference, at least.
See "Hip Priest," where the narrator says he has "drunk from small brown bottles since I was so long."
4. Chicory Tip is an English group that got their start in 1967; they were reportedly one of the first bands to use a Moog. The band's biggest hit, and the one that features the Moog, was "Son of My Father" which went to #1 in the UK in 1972.
5. A song called "Das Boat" appears on Reformation Post TLC.
6. A robin redbreast is one of several species of robin; in the nursery rhyme of that name, Robin Redbreast survives a feline assault, so the fate in question may not be so bad. This line got a lot of attention in the comment section; Danny suggested that it also calls to mind "Who Killed Cock Robin?", in which the avian protagonist is not so lucky. And Simon reminds us of the lines from Blake's "Auguries of Innocence," "A robin redbreast in a cage/Puts all Heaven in a rage."
According to Zack, this Blake couplet plays a role in "the film Red Dragon; it's not in Thomas Harris's original novel, but MES has quoted elsewhere from Harris's Hannibal Lecter series ('peculiar goatish smell') and 'Hip Priest' appears in the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs."
"'Robin Redbreast' was the title of a BBC Play For Today, written by John Bowen (who wrote 'The Ice House' for Ghost Stories For Christmas and another excellent Play for Today, 'The Photograph'), about a TV script editor (Anna Cropper) who moves to an islated village in the country to 'get her head together' after a relationship break up. She becomes pregnant by the local gamekeeper and slips into a psychic netherworld where, due to the locals conspiring against her, she feels unable to leave the village to return to her home in London. Shades of 'Hard Life In Country.' In black and white and first shown in 1970, it's well worth a look. No obvious link, but its themes and atmosphere would not have been atypical MES fa(y)re."