The Dictator Decides

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - Super
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums - Inner Sanctum
Other releases - (none)

Following an appropriately ominous, militaristic, jackbooted march-beat introduction somewhat reminiscent of "I'm Not Scared," the main body of this song is based in part on a brief segment of a composition by the baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. (See my first annotation below for details.) It has the interesting premise that many if not most dictators find themselves essentially trapped in their dictatorial stations and may sometimes long to "get away from it all," escaping to a more private, less burdensome life—and, it goes without saying, still survive. After all, history doesn't have a good record of dictators retiring to write their memoirs.

The lyrics have their origin in a poem that Neil had previously written about "a sad dictator." While working on new music with Chris, he realized that the aforementioned track derived from Vivaldi—without lyrics at that point—had a somewhat martial air and could readily lend itself to the theme of his poem. So Neil set about adapting it for the song. The original title was indeed "The Sad Dictator," but then (on account of "Sad Robot World") they changed it to "The Dictator's Lament," a title it retained until quite late in the process.

Sung from a first-person perspective with the unnamed dictator himself as the narrator, the lyrics suggest—with more than a touch of irony—that he's actually a pretty nice, ordinary guy. (Then again, I would imagine most if not all dictators actually do think highly of themselves, perhaps indeed as "nice guys," if not ordinary.) The lyrics take the form of a litany of the downsides of unquestioned leadership. In succession, he longs for relief from:

The ultimate irony is brilliantly summarized in the song's concluding couplet:

If you get rid of me
We can all be free

In other words, the dictator considers himself as much a prisoner of his regime as any of those who live under his sway. Perhaps not so incidentally, the song's title, "The Dictator Decides," doesn't appear anywhere in the lyrics, which begs the question—just what is it that the dictator has decided? That, however, seems pretty obvious: he's decided he doesn't want to be dictator anymore.


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