Archive’s “Bullets” creates meaning through feeling

“Bullets” by Archive, a London-based trip-hop band, is a powerful song.  It is very aggressive musically and lyrically, though it hides its meaning behind disjointed words.  Bullets communicates meaning through the feelings evoked by its sounds and suggestive language.

You can read Bullet’s lyrics in full on AZlyrics.com.  It’s full of what appear to be non-sequiturs and looping, endlessly-repeating phrases. Unlike most pop music, it doesn’t tell a simple narrative story that listeners can follow in linear fashion.

The lyrics melt into the overall musicality of the track.

The lyrics are designed to defy a listeners’ attempts to focus on them and follow what is being sung.  This is supported by the relative levels in the mix, where the vocals are overpowered by the punchy breakbeat, shredding basslines and overdriven guitars.  The lyrics melt into the overall musicality of the track.

Lyrical analysis

But what can we glean from the lyrics themselves?  The opening lines are the most cogent:

Come touch me like I’m an ordinary man,
have a look in my eyes,
underneath my skin there is a violence,
it’s got a gun in it’s hand.

Listeners are invited to draw close and peer inside the singer.  Inside him is a rage, fighting to get out.  Where is this rage directed?

ready to make sense of anyone, anything

This is a man desperately seeking understanding, striving to overcome confusion, with a determination fueled by his inner turmoil and rage.

Black holes living in the side of your face,
razor wire spinning around your …
around your (blistering sky)

These are pictorial descriptions of some of the apparently senseless things that he wants to understand.  They suggest another person with darkness inside and a defensive exterior.

bullets are the beauty of the blistering sky

These bullets are metaphors for his attempts to understand, fired from that raging desire inside him.  And if they hit their target, they bring beauty, or understanding.

Confine me let me be the lesser of a beautiful man,
without the blood on his hands,
come and make me a martyr come and break my feeling,
with your violence with the gun on my head

Here is a final plea towards the other person, to help him to understand with their own violence and their own gun (symbols for understanding).  He seeks relief from his one-sided struggle to make sense of his relationship with this person.

personal responsibility
personal responsibility
personal responsibility
personal responsibility

The final refrain is repeated over and over.  It’s suggestive of the weight of responsibility he feels to single-handedly figure things out and fix what’s wrong.

Emotional punch to the gut

Bullets feels like a song about relationship.  In very colourful language, it takes us through the mind of a man struggling to understand another person (presumably a woman) who confuses him to the point of rage.  Despite how heavily it weighs on him, his rage gives him a determination to push through the difficulties, bring understanding to his relationship, and find relief.

Even as we listeners struggle to follow a logical thread through the song, we can pick up easily the emotion: the anger, the confusion, the conflict, the sadness, the determination.  It only takes a few highly suggestive words to put these images in our heads, which translates into feelings in our hearts.

as the musical intensity ramps up we are tossed on that rising tsunami of emotion

The few words that sink in are bolstered by the music, which explodes prominently at the forefront of the audio mix.  The music escalates throughout, starting with a frenetic breakbeat, adding warbling, phasing basslines and synths, and eventually blowing up in a frenzy of distorted electric guitars.  We’re on edge from the very beginning, and as the musical intensity ramps up we are tossed on that rising tsunami of emotion that eventually comes crashing down on anyone in earshot.

Bullets is a triumph in musical and lyrical design.  Highly efficient in its arrangement, language and audio mix, it conveys maximum emotion with the minimum of instrumental or vocal effort.  The meaning might not be crystal clear, but it’s raw enough that you can practically smell it.

6 Comments

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  1. From what I hear, though vocals are a bit blurred by the rest, “Personal Responsibility” seems to be changed at the end (last 4 times) into “Personal Response Insanity” and then “Personal Response Obscenity”.

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    • Ok after listen to it more than fifty times, I am pretty convinced about the use of the word “insanity”. Not so sure about the other(s) change(s) and it is actually occurring on the last 8 times of the final refrain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a different interpretation, and I hope that you will at least humor it. I instead tHis song was about a person with severe multiple personality disorder. One personality, most likely his most normal side confiding to someone for help and explaining his plight while his other personality, a very violent creature who kills people or desires to kill people also talks and the song is purely focused on this character rather than any interaction between the person the song’s about and the person they are talking to.

    “Come touch my face like an ordinary man, have a look in my eye, underneath my skin their is a violence, its got a gun in its hand” the narrator or subject (sure which is more appropriate) is asking this person to take a moment to see that they once believed was an ordinary person actually has this raging violence within him

    “Ready to make sense of anyone anything..” This is the narrator saying that he is ready for some kind of explanation as to why he has this monsterous drive in him for violence, with the desperation in the words he chose and in the repetition of these words we can also infer that he has grown weery and is desperate for an answer.

    “black holes living in the side of your face, razor wire spinning around your… Blistering skies” this is the first time the violent part of the narrator speaks and he is talking to the other person, with no clear indication if the man is actually saying this or not, that he will shoot her in the face and then wrap barbed wire around her, possibly to hang her as a fearsome image of his wrath.

    “Bullets are the beuty of the blistering sky, bullets are the beuty and I dont know why” the violent voice is giving some information on his character in the first part by saying that he believes bullets are equivelant to a blistering sky which is a sun set which many would see as a scene of paradise. So he is by connection comparing bullets or the act of shooting people with paradise. The second part is the narrator saying that he believe bullets are beutiful as well showing that while the man confiding to the other person isnt the violent man its hard to see where the narrator ends and the voilent voice begins. But he is again stating his confusion by saying that he doesnt know why he finds bullets beutiful and the repition is the same as the “anyone anything” part which gives off an air of desperation but with the violent voice also repeating it can be seen as the violent voice also growing anxious to act on his violent urges.

    “Personal responsibility” this line can be seen as either a set up for the next line or as the deslerate narrator growing angry at himself for admitting this to someone saying that this violent voice is HIS responsibility and now he’s made it someone else’s

    “Confine me let me be the lesser of a beutiful man, without the blood on his hands, come and make me a martyr come and break my feeling with your violence with the gun in my head” the first part that ends with hands is the narrator asking the person he’s talking with to put him in a mental institution or to get him in jail. So that while his horrable secret will be known to the world he will at least still be human and not kill people from his urges. The second part that begins with “come and break my” is the violent voice challenging the narrator saying either that once they go to jail the narrator will give into his urges thanks to the overwealming fear of his life crashing down and they will then have to kill him or saying that he is so messed up that they would just kill him on the spot. Furthermore the violent voice is happy about it saying that either way the violeent voice proves that it all comes back to hurting and killing each other thats why he compares this to martyrdom
    And the song keeps repeating certain lines either the narrator attcking himself for admitting that he couldnt handle this himself and the violent voice threatning the person the narrator is talking to.

    I know this is very different from what you interpretted but please dont tame that to mean that I disagree. To me art is very subjective both in its quality and meaning. Besides you know enough about music to actually analyse and define the effect the song has I just analyzed the lyrics. I have no idea what half the stuff you said about the music even meant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will absolutely humour your alternative interpretation! Thanks for contributing – you’ve clearly thought a lot about the lyrics. Without the artists commenting definitively on the song’s meaning, any interpretation is valid. I rather enjoy a piece of art that’s so open to interpretation.

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      • jaakkohiltunen1 April 11, 2017 — 5:48 pm

        Hey both of you. the Beauty of music lies in the multiple ways it can be interpreted and the different ways it speaks to different people. This song speaks to me as a soldier.
        In modern war troops face a new enemy when they get home from the front in ways of emotional struggle. High veteran suicide rate, depression and PTSD. Even getting from the “war mindset” back to civilian life is a huge problem veterans struggle with. Think about the lyrics from a perspective that combines both of your views and a soldiers.
        Struggle with multiple personas (you literally have to be a different person on the field, ready to take out anyone anywhere versus the civilian life where having blood in your hands is a very rare occurrence).
        Soldiers also either look down or think of civilians as sheep or _innocent_ for not having faced the same ordeals they have (Blackholes and razorwires for taking things for granted and blinded/protected from the evils of the world). Having a loved one waiting back home when deployed is a critical emotional asset that keeps up personnel morale and help really, really much getting back to normal life from the war (Come touch me like an ordinary man – even though i have been through something violent that has changed me as a person. Confine me.).
        the Most important lines from this aspect are the “Bullets are the beauty of the blistering sky – and i don’t know why” and “Personal responsibility”. the First one speaks of the conflicting combat veteran identity. War had become your life for a long time, now you wonder why you think something so brutal is beautiful to you. Second one sums this view up. From it you can deduct the main reason of the conflicting identity and why it’s so hard to shake off. the singer is clearly struggling about taking a life of another. Rules of engagement and standard operating procedures seem cold and easy on the whiteboard and killing might look like an easy or a common job for a soldier. Yet afterwards you learn that you have really taken a life of a human being – personal responsibility (combined with the earlier lines like ready to take out anyone anywhere)
        TL;DR: a Soldier struggling with the differences of worlds and taking a life, while their significant other can fix, or contain them.

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    • Makes much more sense than the orignal Interpretation, that ignores some core Lines from the song.

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