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Title: ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’
Where to find it: ‘Education, Education, Education, and War’ (2014, Caroline International)
Performed by: Kaiser Chiefs
Words by: not sure actually – guess that’s a question I’ll need to ask if/when I interview them!

I’ve written a couple pieces on There Goes the Fear on the Kaiser Chiefs (archive this way) since last December about the possible negative effects of founding member and primary band songwriter Nick Hodgson. To the delight (and relief) of Kaiser fans, the new album released this year sans Hodgson, ‘Education, Education, Education, and War’ is a good one. While it might not reach the same heights as ‘Employment’ or ‘Yours Truly, Angry Mob’ of the band’s earlier days, the musical landscape has changed in the last 10 years since they started releasing LPs as a band, so you don’t neither can expect the same formula to work. What I find especially wonderful about the new release is that it is showing the band’s evolution post-Hodgson, from their previous scrappier form to a more polished, dare I say it Coldplay / Keane-esque sensibility that will no doubt increase their reach beyond the indie kids and overall will serve them well to keep them in the game for many years to come.

Two of the standout tracks on ‘Education…’ are numbers in this vein, ‘Coming Home’ (whose intro initially reminded me of Simply Red’s ‘Stars’) and the exemplary ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’. We were never sent the album, so the first listen I had of the latter track was when it was played on BBC 6music. I honestly didn’t think it was the Kaiser Chiefs upon hearing it. What’s particularly interesting is that the verses are kind of biting and in a minor key, but then when the chorus comes in, the whole song opens up, as one might expect a song titled ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’: it’s like when you’re at a music festival and it’s been raining, and then God bestows his blessing on everyone and as described by everyone, “the heavens opened up”.

Live, Ricky Wilson is no shrinking violet. He’s anything but and very in your face. That’s just part of the fun of the Kaiser Chiefs live show. When I saw the Kaiser Chiefs for the first time 2 years at SXSW 2012, I was impressed by his intensity and charisma even at an afternoon show in the middle of a cute little courtyard in Austin. However, with the band evolution we’re witnessing, songs like ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ came across last week at the 9:30 Club as truly beautiful and uplifting. Frankly, I’m tearing up just thinking about it and I’m near tears every time I play it.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Picture yourself by a rocket
Picture yourself in a glittering silver suit
Picture yourself getting on it
Saluting the news crews, you’re the new recruit

Verse 2
Do you remember the numbers
hung on the door of the house where you grew up?
Do you remember the colours
tied round the handles of last year’s FA Cup?

Chorus
Meanwhile up in Heaven, they’re waiting for you, waiting for you
And if you believe them, you will see that when you
Meanwhile up in Heaven, they’re waiting for you, waiting for you
And if you believe them, you will see that when you
Are ready to

Verse 3
Guided by love and a flashlight
Led by consuming desire for a good idea
Lighting the clock on the dashboard
It’s not worked 10 years, but I know that it’s still there

Chorus
Meanwhile up in Heaven, they’re waiting for you, waiting for you
And if you believe them, you will see that when you
Meanwhile up in Heaven, they’re waiting for you, waiting for you
And if you believe them, you will see that when you
Are ready to

Bridge
Your mind is the key, it is the key that sets you free
Your mind is the key, it is the key that sets you free

Chorus
Meanwhile up in Heaven, they’re waiting for you, waiting for you
And if you believe them, you will see that when you
Are ready to…

Now, the analysis:

The first verse of the song is pretty straightforward. It’s describing an astronaut (“by a rocket” and “in a glittering suit”, part of the military “saluting the news crews”) who is about to go into space. He’s getting loads of attention, and as he should: he’s a big deal. This is a positive moment.

Yet in the second verse, we are all brought down to earth, literally, as Wilson asks him about if he remembers the number of his house (basic knowledge about oneself) and the colours of the scarves that are tied round last year’s FA Cup (basic knowledge about football for any man who likes footy). Why is Wilson asking these things? Presumably because the said astronaut may not return to Earth.

What’s that’s giving me the most question in ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ are the ‘they’ and ‘them’ as referred to the chorus. “They’re waiting for you” suggests the folks beyond the pearly gates who have successfully made it to Heaven. You see this in the promo video, in the form of wounded soldiers and nurses looking like one of the dream sequences in an episode of M.A.S.H. (see the end of this post), but I think this is also indicating people you love are looking down on you and waiting for you to make that final leap into the next part of your life, when the time comes. However, have a look at the ‘them’ in “And if you believe them, you will see that when you / are ready to”: is he referring to believing that there’s a Heaven and an afterlife? Or that the astronaut should be believing the people who are putting him in the rocket – the scientists on the ground – that he’s going to come through this alive, that will he will return to Earth safe and sound?

The third verse goes even more ambiguous. The lines “Guided by love and a flashlight / Led by consuming desire for a good idea” sounds to me like the astronaut’s earliest years, when you’re a little kid and all your dreams and wishes are innocent. While “Lighting the clock on the dashboard” refers to the present, when the astronaut is revving up his spaceship, “It’s not worked 10 years, but I know that it’s still there” seems to point to the fact that the machine is not reliable, and I’m guessing “I know that it’s still there” means the goal, the dream that he had as a child is still alive, well, and active in his thoughts today.

And then we come to the bridge, which I believe is the key (no pun intended) to the whole song. I’ll never forget the moment when Ricky Wilson leaned on the monitor in front of us and belted out the last “sets you free…” I was speechless. It was amazing. I hope it reminded everyone that he’s a very good singer! Further, the way he sings it and just how much lift the notes have emphasises the importance of these words: “Your mind is the key, it is the key that sets you free.

Whatever is going on the head of the astronaut – or any of the Kaiser Chiefs’ devoted fans more likely was their intention? – it’s what is in your head that is most important. I can’t tell if the whole song is a commentary on mental illness, but maybe the whole astronaut thing is supposed to represent a delusion of grandeur? Either way, I like the song’s message that it’s about you. You and your mind. You and what you’re thinking up there. The idea of astronauts flying around space was always on my mind as a child; it’s kind of a given if your father works for NASA. My father’s wide-eyed wonderment about what was possible with space travel was never tempered, even after the Challenger disaster. He always said we had to keep pushing the envelope, because whether it was space science or my later chosen major of biology, that was how discoveries were made. By taking a chance, by risking it all.

In school, lots of my classmates would say they wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up, but for some reason, that was never an aspiration of mine. The thought of being launched up into the heavens with the possibility of never returning was a terrifying thought. I don’t think this Kaiser Chiefs song is saying that everyone’s dreams are as fantastic as becoming an astronaut and going into space. (Initially, I assumed it was a very morbid song, talking about people welcoming someone who was about to die and enter into the afterlife. But that seems to make no sense whatsoever in the inspiring way Wilson sings the bridge.) Instead, what I think it’s trying to say is we all have had or are in situations that in the moment are terrible and scary but one day it will all become clear in your mind, and you have to trust that the day will come.

This all makes me think about the scary and often frustrating time in all of our lives when we make the transition between being a child and being an adult. When you’re a child, nothing much matters except playing with your friends and having fun. There are no real responsibilities. And then whoosh, we’re thrown into adult life when we’re responsible for ourselves and if we get married and have children, you’re suddenly responsible for other living human beings. Even if you don’t believe that there is life after death, I find the greatest beauty that lies in ‘Meanwhile Up in Heaven’ is knowing that we’re alive and even if you find yourself today in mental anguish or emotional turmoil, you can trust that the heavens will open up one day and the sun will shine again. And getting there is a wonderful, wonderful moment.

Lastly, the song, in promo form, starring the band and a motley crew of what I can only assume are the dear departed, frolicking around a carnival ground. Ricky Wilson is scarred and bleeding from his mouth, and I’m wondering if we’re supposed to think that he and his bandmates are dead?

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