Twentieth Century

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2006
Original album - Fundamental
Producer - Trevor Horn
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

In an ingenious lyrical conceit, Neil—ever the student of history—looks back on the twentieth century as an era in which failed idealism resulted in terrible evils. "The lesson that I learned," he writes, "was this: Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem." This includes both the rise and fall of communism—first put into effective practice with the dawn of the century but which largely collapsed with its dusk:

Well, I bought a ticket for the revolution
And I cheered when the statues fell
Everyone came to destroy what was wicked
But they killed off what was good as well

For all of their noble goals and intentions, communism, capitalism, and other social, political, and/or economic systems have all too often resulted in horrors perpetrated in their names. Even the more obvious evils of fascism—another major twentieth-century political movement—were born out of perverse idealism. Indeed, you could say much the same about the toppling of such dictators as Saddam Hussein.

In short, revolution of any sort appears invariably "to kill all that was good" even as it "destroys what was wicked." This, Neil seems to say, is one of the great lessons of the twentieth century.

But the song's most interesting twist—the thing that indeed makes it ingenious—is what Neil chooses to do with this observation. As he does so often on Fundamental (indeed, what might be considered a thematic motif), he takes the wider social and political situation and applies it at a much more personal level. "Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem—let's stay together." When lovers have trouble getting along together, breaking up may seem the logical solution. But that solution may prove worse than the problem. They may be even more miserable apart than they were together. In short, the "solution" may not be a solution at all.


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