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Title: ‘Lydia, the Ink Will Never Dry’
Where to find it: ‘Too Much Information’ (2014, Daylighting /Co-Op / PIAS)
Performed by: Maximo Park
Words by: presumably Paul Smith

I’d waited 6 long years to see Newcastle band Maximo Park. I’d missed them 3 times previous: their 2008 American tour got cancelled; I couldn’t get in their Great Escape festival appearance in May 2012 at Brighton Dome; and the only other time I had known of them playing DC, I had the unfortunate luck of being in California for work and had to have one of the other writers in town cover it. Thankfully, they returned to our city on the 20th of May, they were amazing, I got to meet the band, and I also got to interview their drummer Tom for this ace feature.

‘Too Much Information’, their fifth album, is their most ambitious yet. There are still some songs on there that I don’t relate to and skip over when I’m listening to the album, but the dancey ‘Brain Cells’ and the reflective ‘Leave This Island’ are superb (I’m pretty sure the latter will be one of my favourite tracks of 2014). This one too is just superbly haunting. I’ve listened to it so many times, I think I’ve figured this one out, though other ideas keep swimming in my head on what else it could be about. And this is really good considering lyrically it’s a short song and repetitive. Just goes to show how great the songwriting is!

First, the words:

Verse 1
Near the Palace Hotel
Where you used to dwell
Engraved against your wishes
One of your greatest misses

You hope the ink will never dry
You’re fooling yourself
You feel set up
You’re telling yourself
You don’t believe in luck

Verse 2
On Princess Street
Where we used to meet
We knew not where we’re treading
Or how the dye will spread in
You hope the ink will never dry

You’re fooling yourself
You been set up
You’re telling yourself
You’ve done enough

Chorus
Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?
I don’t know about you
But it feels good to me
Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?
I don’t know about you
But it feels good to me
Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?
I don’t know about you
But it feels good to me

Instrumental bridge / guitar solo

Final chorus / outro
Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?
I don’t know about you
But it feels good to me
Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?
I don’t know about you
But it feels good to me
I don’t know about you
but it feels good to me

Now, the analysis:

Instrumentally, the first thing about this song that will strike you is the Johnny Marr-esque guitars. I don’t know what to say if this isn’t a song written to thank the memory of the Smiths. Further, after having spent some time there last month myself, mentions of the Palace Hotel and Princess Street seem to indicate the song is set in Manchester.

Before I saw the lyric video the band released to go with the song, as a writer, I just assumed they were talking about a piece of writing that wasn’t complete or a situation with words, such as a relationship, that was left unfinished. Then you get the video (see bottom of this post) and the act of tattooing gives the word ‘ink’ an entirely different meaning. Hmm, okay.

I started to think about tattoos in history that have been “engraved against” someone’s “wishes”. Steers that are branded by their owner’s telltale marks; Holocaust victims with the numbers burned into their skin. The latter is why I’d never get a tattoo personally: why would you want to mark yourself voluntarily when people in our past history have been forced against their will to have these marked that they are ‘owned’, someone else’s ‘property’, or not a human being? These are very strong words in the song, which made me change my original idea of this being just a fluff piece about a relationship gone sour to one something far more creepy.

I’ve decided that I don’t think Paul Smith literally meant a tattoo but something that is mentally burned into someone’s life. To be fair, if you consider that verbal abuse can be as bad or worse than physical abuse, the thought of feeling like you don’t measure up can be pretty damaging to someone’s psyche, and this is the exact feeling I get in this song. There’s a mention of Princess Street being “where we used to meet”: Princess Street is one of the main thoroughfares of the city centre and the choice of using the action of meeting made me think one thing: this woman is a prostitute. She “used to dwell” in the Palace Hotel. Think about it, what kind of person tends to choose to live in a hotel? Someone who is an itinerant, someone who doesn’t want people to know what he/she is doing.

Why do I think this? The chorus isn’t gleefully sung – thankfully – and just insistent. “Lydia, tell me how hard can it be?” Something is difficult for her to get past. I just get the vibe that the voice of the song is one of her regular customers, having come into the city for his ‘usual’. He sees no problem with the transaction in a literal sense: “I don’t know about you, but it feels good to me.” To his credit, he recognises initially there was a question of whether what they were doing was right: “We knew not where we’re treading / Or how the dye will spread in”.

The man also recognises the woman’s own misgivings: “You’re fooling yourself / You feel set up” and “one of your greatest misses” (she knows she’s made a mistake with choices in her life). But what I find the most haunting is the repetition throughout the song “you hope the ink will never dry”: she doesn’t want this less than savoury lifestyle of hers to be the be-all and end-all of her life. To use the engraving metaphor again, she doesn’t want this to be her legacy, what will be printed on her tombstone. This is the part of the song that impresses me the most. I don’t know if men can relate to what ‘Lydia’ is going through, as I think us women have entirely different life struggles, because society dictates that we’re ‘supposed’ to be good wives, good mothers, good caregivers, although old societal norms that were present when my parents were young have now changed.

Girls no longer have to get married or have partners at all. This is a good thing in my eyes, as I am from a culture that still has to get with this program. Yet something that has become exceedingly, painfully clear after the Isla Vista massacre last month is that some men still look at women as objects, things to be ‘had’, and even though I’m not some bra-burning ultra feminist, thinking about things like this scares me a woman. A lot. I don’t identify with ‘Lydia’ literally because I haven’t had her experience, and I am thankful I have not. But what I can relate to is the feeling that as a woman, there are things that are ‘done’ to us by the men we encounter in our lives that leave emotional scars, scars that will never heal. Time will pass and we will get to the point where the pain no longer feels fresh. But the scars will always, always be there. Give that a thought for a moment.

Lastly, the song, presented in an unusual way: a way too devoted Maximo fan getting the lyrics tattooed – as ink, geddit? – permanently on her back. WHAT.

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