Political World (Oh Mercy)

Review by Tony Attwood

The musical opening of the recording on Old Mercy is a triumph on its own.  A remarkable opening to the album.   A gentle fade in as each instrument comes in of its own accord – rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, Dylan’s voice, drums.   By the time of the end of the first “verse” the power is extraordinarily strong.

It may be thought of as an invention, a device, and yet it is hard to see how else such a song could start.  A song which is nothing but a series of two line “verses” (I put the phrase in inverted commas- can two lines really be  a verse?

And then there is the music.  One chord, and that’s all.  Every verse starting with the same line, “We live in a political world”.   For once, without the driving energy of the accompaniment it is hard to see how the song could work.

And for goodness sake – the verse is in essence just three notes – although to be fair later Dylan does through in a few variations.

It is hard to imagine other songs built so successfully out of such a limited set of materials.

But the extraordinary thing is that for once it is not the lyrics that stay with the listener first, second or third time it is sung.  That is not to say the lyrics are not good, but rather that the energy and drive of the song is so great that it is enough.  The words come next.

We live in a political world
Love don’t have any place
We’re living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don’t have a face

That first verse gives us a sense that we are into an electric protest song – the loss of love, crime is everywhere in this anonymous world.   The music drives us on, no time to stop, no time to love.

We live in a political world
Icicles hanging down
Wedding bells ring and angels sing
Clouds cover up the ground

The symbols of the past are still there, but nothing is as it was.  The old values are lost even though they seem to be here still.  We still get married but live in the darkness of the clouds.  If you have something to say, forget it, because if it doesn’t fit, no one will let your expression develop and reach others.

We live in a political world
Wisdom is thrown into jail
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail

By this stage the music is driving at such a pace that it is hard to keep up, everything is lost to the political world

We live in a political world
Where mercy walks the plank
Life is in mirrors, death disappears
Up the steps into the nearest bank

And how much foresight is there to blame the banks!

We live in a political world
Where courage is a thing of the past
Houses are haunted, children are unwanted
The next day could be your last

We live in a political world
The one we can see and can feel
But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck
We all know for sure that it’s real

It is particularly interesting that the two verses above run straight into each other before a musical break.   “We all know for sure that it’s real” is the ultimate horror.

So the horror builds until the final moment in which it is clear that we know nothing – not even the name of whatever God it is that we choose to worship.  And then the fade out after a longer inter-verse type break.  That’s it, everything is broken.  Except that of course that is another song on a later track.

We live in a political world
Everything is hers or his
Climb into the frame and shout God’s name
But you’re never sure what it is

From a man who made his name in part from unusual chord changes and less than perfect productions of his songs on record, this is a complete reversal.  The music is perfectly performed – as it has to be because it counts for so much.  The chord is still just one, there is nothing else, for we have nothing else.


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2 Responses to Political World (Oh Mercy)

  1. bill says:

    I’ve always thought of this as one of his weaker songs…boring melody half baked lyrics…I like alot of oh mercy just could never get my arms around this tune

  2. Earl says:

    Its a brilliant song. As stated above, the lyrics are strong and the music is fitting. In my opinion, he lyrics are more than half baked – me being a musician, I can tell you, coming up with those kind of lyrics is not easy. For example –
    “We live in a political world
    Where mercy walks the plank
    Life is in mirrors, death disappears
    Up the steps into the nearest bank”

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