Muse, Citizen Erased and 1984

Whilst listening to the music of one of my favourite bands, I discovered a neat literary analogy of one of their songs, which I think is worth sharing. I’m not the first person to think this, but as literary analysis of popular music is not a common, nor a particularly respected, practice, I think my particular analogy shall be somewhat more detailed than those that have gone before on the innumerable online forums sprawled across cyberspace.

“Wash me away / Clean your body of me / Erase all the memories / They will only bring us pain / And I’ve seen, all I’ll ever need” – Citizen Erased – Muse. The song is clearly based upon Orwell’s 1984, and the terrifying idea of a society, oligarchic and totalitarian, that can erase the very idea of a person existing. This last verse, as well as the change in music tempo and harmony, shows a shift in consciousness from a resistance of this state, to an acceptance, just as Winston Smith accepts his fate at the end of the novel: “He loved Big Brother”.

At the start of the song the guitar rift is upbeat, intense, and full of discordant ‘dead notes’ that typify this resistance to the influences of society. The music is not at harmony and similarly the persona of the song knows there is something at miss, and so is out of sync. In addition the lyrics reflect an attempt at counter-acting this influence. “And the truth’s unwinding, scraping away at my mind”, but later as the music breaks down to a softer and more harmonic sound, including a change from guitar to a piano rift, we see that the persona of the song has been broken by the dictatorial government he lives under.

The effect is at once sinister and moving. The resolution of the song with such beautiful harmony actually symbolises the vulnerability of human consciousness to resist these kinds of attacks and oppressions, a dark message. Yet, in my opinion, it also goes beyond the simple scenario of the tired citizen becoming erased by society, there is also a wider symbolism in the final lyrics. The persona is losing himself, becoming absorbed into a whole and voided of all individuality: “Wash me away” – this state is often associated with religious ascension, i.e. of becoming one with God, divinity, and all the souls of our relations and loved ones. In this instance this oblivious state would be a positive, but in ‘Citizen Erased’, it is ironic that the persona of the song feels such a release and joy at becoming finally bereft of personality and independence.

I hope you enjoyed this interpretation of ‘Citizen Erased’ – if you want to read more stuff by me tune into this blog by following me on Twitter: @josephwordsmith



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