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Title: ‘Walking Disasters’
Where to find it: ‘The Wombats Proudly Present This Modern Glitch’ (2011, 14th Floor Records [UK], Bright Antenna [US])
Performed by: The Wombats
Words by: Matthew “Murph” Murphy

Matthew “Murph” Murphy of the Wombats has been through a lot. It’s often said that artists have to suffer for their art. I’d argue that in Murph’s case, we’re lucky enough that he’s willing to share his experiences with us, from self-doubt to letting go and having a good time out with mates, from depression to the euphoria of being in love. In an interview with a magazine produced by CALM that I’m a contributor to, Murph chatted with our editor Rachel Clare about his battle with depression and his decision to give up anti-depressants, which ultimately led to the writing of the single ‘Anti-D’. ‘Anti-D’ seemed way too obvious of a choice for Music in Notes, so I’ve chosen something else.

I found their 2011 album ‘The Wombats Proudly Present: This Modern Glitch’ particularly strong in its songwriting, taking Murph’s often introspective and often dark lyrics and pairing it with the kind of pop melody others only wish they could come up with. It spawned several well-performing singles including ‘Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)’ and ‘Jump in the Fog’. But for today’s analysis, I’ve chosen a less obvious track from the LP to chew on.

First, the words:

Verse 1
She used to get her kicks from a fall to the floor
But now she’s always wasted
A total looker, but she’s jaded
The kind of shivering wreck that I adore
I can’t offer you a rescue
I can tell you what I’d do

Pre-chorus
I’d tell my mother that I love her dearly
And tell my father that I need him back again
And if these words won’t drop from your lips
I will be your Freudian slip

Chorus
And flowers might wilt when we walk past
And self-help might help when it makes us laugh
Only finding questions in answers
You and I are just walking disasters
You and I are just walking disasters
You and I are just walking disasters

Verse 2
She only finds her love in a downtown score (store?)
Consumption makes her stronger
She’s the sweetest anaconda
The kind of lack of respect that I adore
I can’t offer you a rescue
But when you’ve lost all that you have left to lose

Pre-chorus
I’d tell my mother that I love her dearly
And tell my father that I need him back again
And if these words won’t drop from your lips
I will be your Freudian slip

Bridge
As sharp as a knife and as blunt as a wheel
You be my calm, I’ll be your pneumatic drill
And what we’ll never want, we’ll always need
Right now we need some pop psychology
To keep us upbeat

Pre-chorus
So tell your mother that you love her dearly
And tell your father you won’t lock him out again
And if these words won’t drop from your lips
I will be your Freudian slip

Chorus
And flowers might wilt when we walk past
And self-help might help when it makes us laugh
Only finding questions in answers
You and I are just walking disasters
You and I are just walking disasters
You and I are just walking disasters

Now, the analysis:

‘Walking Disasters’ is about coming of age and coming to a point of your maturity when you’re recognising your own bad habits as well as what you yourself can do in life to make changes for the better. The title is typical Murph self-deprecation, calling himself and his girl / friend “walking disasters”, as if every waking moment they live is in a cartoon world and every action farcical.

In verse 1, every single transcription I’ve seen online makes the first line out to be “She used to get her kicks from a fall to the floor”; I had always assumed it was “She used to get her kicks from the four to the floor”, as if the girl he’s speaking of was a dance music fan who used to go to raves. But maybe that’s just me and my synth-loving tendencies. Admittedly, with the words reading as “fall to the floor”, it’s more poignant, as if he’s watching her like a bystander to a train wreck. He wants to do something while she makes a fool out of herself, but he knows he can’t because he is every bit of a human catastrophe as she is.

He is sympathetic to her: “The kind of shivering wreck that I adore”; I find that particularly nice, as it’s usually us women who are doing the mothering in relationships, not the other way around. No, he’s being brotherly or even fatherly, noting she’s “a total looker” but what a shame “now she’s always wasted”. He’s also mature enough to recognise that even when she is sober and realises the error of her ways and what a mess she really is, it’s not his place to be that grounding influence for her and to take her on as a project. He offers up advice instead.

I’d tell my mother that I love her dearly
And tell my father that I need him back again
And if these words won’t drop from your lips
I will be your Freudian slip

In the pre-chorus, he offers up that surprisingly mature advice to a youngster that maybe you should listen to your parents and tell them that you love them, even if you grew up rebelling against all their rules. In a second and the final version of the pre-chorus, Murph sings, “And tell your father you won’t lock him out again”, which makes it sound like the girl comes from a broken home and her parents are divorced. I’m not entirely sure what “I will be your Freudian slip” means: Freudian slips are accidental slips of the tongue, and since he’s refusing to take her on permanently as a girlfriend (he has admitted he’s every bit of a screw-up as she is, so he can’t handle the responsibility), maybe he means they’re okay as accidental lovers?

And flowers might wilt when we walk past
And self-help might help when it makes us laugh
Only finding questions in answers
You and I are just walking disasters

The chorus strikes me as extremely witty, as does the later bridge. They’re going through life extremely jaded about what is up ahead for them (“flowers might wilt when we walk past”) and self-help is a joke (it “might” only “help when it makes us laugh”). Those are pretty immature, childish ways of thinking. But “only finding questions in answers, you and I are just walking disasters” allows the narrator to come to some conclusion, even if it’s not a perfect one. And I think that’s exactly the point: we are not perfect. As Morrissey sang in ‘The Youngest Was the Most Loved’, “there is no such thing as normal”. Questioning the answers and not just questioning authority (teenage rebellion) indicates personal growth and maturity.

In verse 2, more lyric confusion. Is it “She only finds her love in a downtown score”, as in getting drugs and getting high, or “She only finds her love in a downtown store”, she’s an incurable shopaholic? The next lines, “Consumption makes her stronger / She’s the sweetest anaconda”, seem to suggest the former. Even the use of the word ‘anaconda’ is very telling that another reason he can’t be with her is that she can be a snake at times. Ha!

As sharp as a knife and as blunt as a wheel
You be my calm, I’ll be your pneumatic drill
And what we’ll never want, we’ll always need
Right now we need some pop psychology
To keep us upbeat

The bridge is the other height of Murph’s droll humour here. “As sharp as a knife and as blunt as a wheel / You be my calm, I’ll be your pneumatic drill”: they are complete opposites, and even more confusingly, he’s given her the role of being the calm one while he’s the one wreaking havoc, which is the opposite of what we assumed he was at the start of the song: the voice of reason watching his friend get into trouble yet again on a bad night. “And what we’ll never want, we’ll always need” is a classic refrain from psychologists who bemoan modern society’s desires for things when they’re not needed, but lesser evolved humans can’t control their willpower and can’t tell the difference. “Right now we need some pop psychology / To keep us upbeat” is like saying to go turn on MTV and get all excited watching some stupid top 40 video that means absolutely nothing. He knows that is not the cure-all, even if when we were younger we certainly were encouraged to believe that by our peers and even by society itself.

A simple pop song? Hardly.

Lastly, the song, in stream form, as the song was never released as a single.

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