Frozen Ones

Marching across our own screens
Our faces form all our needs
The future’s not returning
All bridges built for burning
How can there be anything wrong?
Aren’t we the frozen ones?

One day I’ll just erase the tape
Wave goodbye and fade away
Get lost in the frost again
Leave the ashes of my face
At the bottom of your suitcase
Find a sunset, turn and wave

How can there by anything wrong?
Aren’t we the frozen ones?
The frozen ones
The frozen ones

We walk around inside each other
Visiting the empty rooms
Put me on, I’ll put you on too
You knew I’d have to follow you
Because you saw I’m hollow too
But it’s so nice being ice, ooh

How can there by anything wrong?
Aren’t we the frozen ones?
The frozen ones
The frozen ones

We’re nowhere
We don’t care who led us here
No one will care when we’re gone

The frozen ones
The frozen ones

Too many pictures on my screen
And all of them are screaming at me
Got to have this insulation
The only way to stop the flood
Whenever feelings get too real
Is to cut the information

How can there be anything wrong?
Aren’t we the frozen ones?
The frozen ones
The frozen ones

We’re nowhere
We don’t care who led us here
No one will care when we’re gone

The frozen ones
The frozen ones
The frozen ones

Lyrics © John Foxx.

Thoughts on the text © Martin Smith and translated from birdsong.
Link to the post by all means, but please don’t reproduce the content without permission.

 

“Distant”. “Artificial”. “Frozen” – reads like a summary of press reviews relating to Ultravox! during 1977. Epitomising all this is John Foxx, a frontman who attracted less than favourable attention at the time, fuelled by his own insistence that the band retain as much of their originality and identity as possible, remain true to their hearts and make challenging rather than comically ‘acceptable’ music. As Steve Malins remarks in the sleevenotes to the 2006 definitive re-master of the ‘Ha! ha! ha!’ album, Foxx did cut a ‘remote, rather austere figure’ dressing in black and merging in with the band and the music rather than breaking down the barriers between audience and band that the press were more keen to encourage.

In the context of this song though, ‘Frozen Ones’ stands alongside Distant Smile and Artificial Life in providing the framework of songs around which the rest of the album is constructed. The three songs not only share a common theme (cynical, often bleak observations of the peripheral, disconnected Quiet Man; ego-centric commentaries on norms, cliches and behaviour patterns) but they are also strikingly similar in terms of their lyrical composition and musical structure. All begin with relatively gentle slow instrumental passages on strings, piano and synths that build to an explosive vocal delivery and sonic assault. In each, his first lines are delivered coldly, treated to sound robotic and impersonal.

In the opening verse this time, Foxx expresses the self-reliance of the protagonists. He uses the word ‘our’ three times, not only to clearly establish his position among them but also to exaggerate the separation of them from the rest. They feel no need to associate, engage or comply with management directives. Indeed, the nature of their personalities makes it hard of them to do so and instead they affirm the detachment as a choice. What’s wrong with that? After all, they act and look this way because of who they are, and it is therefore should be expected of them.

He adopts a dismissive tone of arrogant coolness in the second verse, verbally brushing away those that seek to follow. The lines warn off those that may wish to get too close – a reminder that he is in control and decides for whom, and when, the tape can be left to run. And, as a songwriter, Foxx is back to some of the poetic form that is considered lacking in this album compared to the linguistic mastery of its predecessor. While it is true there are considerably less literary and artistic references in these songs, there is no shortage of examples of John Foxx own skill with words and phrasing. That serves to strengthen the statement presented in Ha! Ha! Ha!  that Ultravox! is a band keen to throw off any musical crutches they may have been accused of borrowing from the likes of Roxy Music, the New York Dolls or Bowie and make their presence felt on the own terms. The imagery comes through really strongly in well-crafted couplets in which he threatens to “Leave the ashes of my face | at the bottom of your suitcase” and in verse three when he describes how “We’ll walk around inside each other | visiting the empty rooms”.

The key to understanding why ‘the frozen ones’ adopt this stance and manners is expressed in verse four. Everything is getting just ‘too real’. Sensory and information overload leading to short circuits, stress and malfunction. Perhaps Foxx was expressing this tension and emotional anxiety in the ‘absurdly mannered’ strutting around that he was alleged to perform on stage… with increasing despair, he seeks extreme responses. “Too many”, “screaming”. Stop. Cut.

But before he slams the iron gates completely, he stands beside his friends again, defiantly fist waving. “We’re nowhere | we don’t care”. He is brandishing a double-edged sword, commenting obliquely that the punk movement around them, of which they are now categorically not a part despite the grittier, harsher sound, will soon have passed and left no significant trace. He acknowledges the band don’t “fit” and are proving difficult to market. His vitiriol is also directed at the record company executives with whom he and the band were distinctly pissed off at the time. They knew that the addition of synthesisers to their sound was not going to win them many admirers and would probably do ‘jack shit’ in terms of sales. But they didn’t care, and wrote songs like this on purpose, raising two-fingers at the suits upstairs.

It must have felt, in the press at least (if not even already around the boardroom table at Island Records), that many journalists would have been glad to see the back of Ultravox!
Among them, the outspoken Julie Burchill writing in the NME who claimed disparagingly, on hearing ‘Frozen Ones’, to have met more menacing meatballs than this…

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One thought on “Frozen Ones

  1. Pingback: The Man Who Dies Every Day | Translated from Birdsong

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