Among the many cryptic songs off Radiohead
's second album from their rebirth, Amnesiac
, this is the most puzzling. Many reviewers have been critical of it, calling it a worthless segue to show off Radiohead's new-found synth skills. The lyrics were added merely as a token show of legitimacy. Thom Yorke
is thumbing his nose at us with meaningless nonsense about doors. The bastard
. All in all, a slight weakness within an otherwise stunning album.
I think Pulk/Pull is brushed aside far too casually. There's a purpose behind the whole arrangement, something more than just a conveniant combination of aethetically pleasing sounds and words. Artistic meaning requires the active participation of both the artist and the listener. Perhaps Thom really did toss this song off. But I doubt it.
The strongest mechanism of Pulk/Pull is the building of tension. Tension is important in all forms of music. Without it, a listener's attention is prone to wandering. Not only must there be tension, but it must be dynamic. If the pattern is too simplistic and monotonous a listener will be irritated (see Also Sprach Zarathustra for a wonderful example of static, stagnant tension). Pulk/Pull evokes tension through a combination of both lyrics and sounds. The lyrics invite the listener to wonder. Why is Thom muttering about doors? Is there some pattern to it? What is he trying to say? Why does the way he keeps talking about doors change? Sometimes reverb, sometimes short and cut, sometimes echo. Crystal clear one moment and completely muddled the next. In cojunct with this baiting of the listener's noggin, the heavy thumps and clicks and swoops also set one on edge. There's no melody. No consistency. Sounds merge in and out irregularly and unexpectedly. The beat drops away and stumbles in again by its own twisted dreamworld logic. The sonic landscape Radiohead evokes allows the listener no comfort or familiarity.
Tension is not quite enough to complete the picture. After all, what is tension without climax? If one's going to be lead by the nose, one had better be lead somewhere. At first glance, Radiohead seems not to have provided this conclusion. Look closer. The last line's content, combined with its finality, gives you all the climax you need. After a succession of doors, all sorts of doors, there is this last door. The trapdoor. The door that leads nowhere. The jig is up, the game's ended, there is nothing left but freefall. After traveling through one door after another, one's reward for persistance is emptiness.
We are revolving doors. As individuals and as collectives we stagger through the same patterns over and over again. They are more than habits, they are ingrained into our behavior. Every path eventually curves back 'round again. No exit. In many belief systems this tendancy of life to cycle itself crosses into the realm of spirits. The essence of a person goes on past hir death, falling back into a new body with the same burden of patterns. Mistakes manifest themselves again in the new life. Can these patterns be changed? In Radiohead's world, they cannot. There are like laws of the universe; observable, infallible constants. So what's the solution? The trapdoor. The breaking of the cycle. Complete and total separation from the circle of life. Is this shattering of pattern Nirvana, the end of suffering? Or is it spiritual suicide, a terrifying cease of existence?
Radiohead doesn't presume to tell us. They simply lead us to this point, through music and words, then leave us to ponder as they shudder their way through Pulk/Pull's dénouement. We have to make the choice between faith and nihilism ourselves. None other can make it for us.
Caveat: My interpretation. I do not presume to supply the one definitive meaning. But if you're looking for something to rectify from this work of music, here's a possible path.
There are front doors
And there are revolving doors.
Doors on the rudders of big ships
And we are revolving doors.
There are doors that open by themselves.
There are s l i d i n g doors
And there are secret doors...
There are doors that lock
And doors that don't.
There are doors that let you in
But never open.
And there are trap doors...
that you can't come back from.
Written by: Thom Yorke
Performed by: Radiohead
Appears on: Amnesiac
The above lyrics run to 75 words. The analytical content stands at 644 words. In concordance with E2's new copyright policy, this fits within the guidelines for fair use. Questions, concerns, or objections; please message me and I will reply as soon as possible. CST Approved!