THIS TRAIN WILL BE TAKING NO PASSENGERS: AN ANALYSIS
Written by Glenn Richards, performed by his band Augie March, on their 2002 album Strange Bird. His lyrics are among the very few lyrics in rock music which not only merit serious literary criticism but thrive upon it.
This is of course only my interpretation of the lyrics.
Musically, people have commented on the influence of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - it's evident in the structure of the song, the raucous backing vocals, the evil, twisted take on the polka; the song evokes the likes of "I Had A Dream, Joe" from Cave's 1991 album Henry's Dream. Lyrically, the song also treads the same ground as Cave - that is, his usual topics of damnation and decadence. This Train... seems informed by Dante's Inferno, with descriptions of the passengers on the train replacing the descriptions of the inhabitants of the levels of hell.
So what's the title mean? A train that will be taking no passengers is a train that is not stopping. And a train can only go where the tracks lead it. I think the point of the title is that damnation is something that fate holds for people; you can not board the train, you can only be born on the train.
"We will adjust to this new condition of living,
Like a man with his entrails now out him not in,
after certain techniques of torture accustoms himself
To a new condition of living...train!"
This new condition of living is the condition of living in hell. The whole "we will adjust" line is irony - the only way a man can adjust to torture is to go mad.
"Thoughtful godless men find god in them at the age of twenty-five
but in a year death gains favor and they think themselves the more alive,
You'll find them in the loose caboose where the pills are kept and the stupid juice,
This one has a sleeping wheel, this one has a willing noose"
The narrator is implying here that the thoughtful men are godless again; the brief flirtation with God was never going to last. Despite their best efforts, they are back on the train. They are back on the tracks to hell, popping pills, drinking stupid juice (alcohol), falling asleep at the wheel of an automobile, hanging themselves, that kind of thing.
"Onwards and on to the ends of love,
Pricked vanity, habit and ruse,
Onward and on to a premature silence
Where death finds too much use."
"Onward and on" refers to the never stopping nature of the train and the tortures of hell; they do not stop until love is ended and the balloons that are our foibles (vanity, habit and ruse) have had a needle stuck in them. The
"premature silence" is the "new condition of living" - withdrawing into yourself and becoming mad.
"Fifteen year old whores in training, eyes a'batting, arms a'flailing,
skin aflame, this fire fanning express..."
This describes some of the other passengers on the train to hell - they are only in training (nice wordplay there), but that their skin's aflame is a metaphor for how damned they already are; it shows that they're not getting off the train to hell, which is further fanning their fires of their damnation...
"If you're on board
amazement follows fear and rounded by dismay
it takes the corner into the day after today
which is a father's sorrow"
The father is disappointed at how the children continue to stay on the train to hell, but they cannot get off, no matter how amazed, scared or dismayed they are.
"Onward and on to the ends of meanness
where kindness is the means of the earth
Onward and on, awakening finds us
Too sensual beings from birth"
The train continues onward to a place where the goals of meanness are served - hell - (note the clever twisting of the word "ends" between the first chorus and this second one) and the only kindness is to be swallowed by the earth
again - to cease existence. Temptation by things sensual is what causes one to get on the train to hell; Glenn suggests that it is simply within the nature of some to be damned to hell from their moment of birth.
("I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry lady, I'm sorry, I'm sorry lady...I'm sorry")
The repetition of this line suggests the pointlessness of trying to repent of your damning actions; once you've done them there's nothing you can do.
"Pods of wealthy blonde gobbets with red-rind eyes
Getting pecked at by the heroin sparrows of the western skies,
It may be married to the tracks but this train flies
And it's taking no passengers."
After describing some of the other passengers on the train - a poetic description of models taking heroin - the impression is that the train is getting still faster and that it is only going in one direction.
"We'll stand on his hand, that's how you pin your man,
We'll smash him from Preston to Epworth!"
This is a description of cruelty and violence; another thing that people on the train to hell indulge in. These last few lines also give an impression of the sort of adrenaline rush pure evil can be.
"Onward and on to the ends of reason
Where malice is the means of the Earth.
Onward and on, this strange-wrought bird,
onwards and over the black coffee earth,
Onward and on, this laughing train
to the ends of its low, low mirth..."
"The ends of reason" are the beginnings of madness; this further reinforces the madness that is the inevitable result of being on the train. The train is flying, it is therefore a "strange-wrought bird." The idea of strange birds is also connecting theme that runs through the album This Train... is from (Strange Bird, appropriately).
The black coffee earth has a double meaning; at one level it's a description of the colour of the earth, and thus perhaps a reference to a hellish place. At another level, black coffee wakes you up, and so, for the train to fly over the black coffee earth, it indicates that the people on the train are not going to wake up from their damned ways.
The "low, low mirth" of the train is a) comparing the sound of a train moving over tracks to a low-pitched laughter and b) commenting on how low - that is, how cruel - the laughter is.
"Where the media make it with the media whores,
Lady Time minces man-meat with her contract claws
for a barbecue with the veterans of the talkback wars
in the outback palace...of one John Laws."
This part of the song is where Glenn starts describing the hell to which the train is going. "The veterans of the talkback wars" and "contract claws" (word play for a clause in a contract) is a reference to "cash for comment" scandal, where Australian talkback radio types, including John Laws, were recently discovered to be deceiving the audience about the advertising content of their programs. The man-meat minced by Lady Time are presumably the people who listen to the reactionary views of the likes of John Laws and slowly become more and more twisted inside as their ugly conservative ideology sinks in. Or something like that.
"O we will adjust to this new condition of living
like a sailor with his hands tied behind his back
imprisoned after sailing into foreign waters, unawares,
accustoms himself to a new condition of living."
Appropriately, after the swipe at reactionary ideologues, this is an attack at the conditions suffered by sailors "imprisoned after sailing into foreign waters" - that is, the refugees that have been the subject of a bit of controversy in Australia recently.
"But a shadow falls between this hurtling intent and its realisation
for its government is rotten and therefore its civilisation
which is certainly taking no passengers...train..."
The surprise twist at the end of the song: the shadow falling in front of the hurtling intent of the train is suggesting that the train is already in hell. We're *all* on the train; the train is not just something some people are on. The civilisation which is certainly taking no passengers is our civilisation. And by inference, the train.
Not just our beliefs and practices, but even the very way we perceive the world, are influenced by the cultures we grow up in. I think Glenn is trying to articulate something like this, but with an added moral element; that simply growing up in this particular superficial, shallow, decadent culture has damned us to a life in hell.
So in conclusion, This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers is
suggesting that this world is hell and that our civilisation is damning us from the very beginning.
I emailed the band's manager requesting permission to have these lyrics on e2.
100% fine mate, cheers