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Analytical Arrangements: ‘How Many Walls’

[dropcap style=”flat” size=”4″]A[/dropcap] band combining punk rock and typical alternative sounds, Rise Against is one of the most well-known names in the punk rock scene. The genre is stylized by fast and intense drum beats and guitar rhythms put to screaming political lyrics. Rise Against’s earlier albums certainly embody this, their first being in 2001, but as time has passed their sound has matured and cleaned up considerably. Thankfully, their messages haven’t.

Rise Against released their latest album, “Wolves,” on June 9, 2017. It took obvious aim at the 2016 presidential election, as the lead singer Tim McIlrath stated in an interview that the entire album was written with the current political climate in mind. The members of Rise Against are also publically liberal, and as such, the tracks on “Wolves” take aim at the Republican party and current U.S. president Donald Trump. This includes “How Many Walls,” the focus of this post.

How many walls can you put up?
How many guns ’til you feel safe?
How many times can we watch this story
Over and over and over again?
And how many years have we wasted
Counting the lies that we’ve been fed?
For something to change we have waited
Over and over and over again

The song opens with a simple guitar rhythm that drops straight into intense rock and the pointed chorus. The line “How many walls can you put up?” is an obvious jab at Trump for his famous campaign promise of building a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border, which has stirred a lot of talk and controversy.

The following lines are targeting gun owners and gun violence, a very much current topic with the shooting in Parkland, Fl. Rise Against’s message echoes that of many people currently: how many times does something have to happen before change happens?

[note note_color=”#44d790″ text_color=”#000000″ radius=”16″]Fast facts: Rise Against formed in 1999 and has since become one of the biggest names in punk rock. “Wolves,” their 8th album, is noted for its apt timing and commentary on the current political climate. [/note]

I’m entertained by the monkey on your back
But can we still call it a joke if no one laughs?
It’s either going up in smoke around me or according to plan
A bittersweet disaster melting over and over again

“How Many Walls” transitions into its first verse, opening with a common idiom that the band applies to Trump meaning having an anger or emotional problem, essentially. It’s a cleverly disguised dig at the president that then takes the form of fear, explained in the second line. The third line especially hits hard for people trying to make sense of the strange politics occurring now, with Trump regularly tweeting terrible things at citizens or false facts — was this all planned or is this just a hilariously bad attempt at the government? The last line is a nice reference to climate change as well.

How many walls can you put up?
How many guns ’til you feel safe?
How many times can we watch this story
Over and over and over again?
How many years have we wasted
Counting the lies that we’ve been fed?
For something to change we have waited
Over and over and over again

Chasing our own tail, the more we learn the less we know
As the monsters lost in history are now making their return
As we bow down

Roll out the carpet, red as rose
We should have known

The chorus repeats and the song slows, if but for a moment. I believe the main point of slowing the instrumental is for the listener to really understand what is trying to be said in this verse. It’s pointing out how history is repeating itself in the second verse, and I cannot help but think about the phrase “If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” The last half of the verse references Trump’s entertainment past — he does have a Hollywood Walk of Fame star, after all.

It concludes in a painful way; as the instrumental builds up again, McIlrath belts out the last line as his voice slowly quietens for the next verse coming.

How many walls can you put up?
How many guns ’til you feel safe?
How many times can we watch this story
Over and over and over again?
How many years have we wasted
Counting the lies that we’ve been fed?
For something to change we have waited
Over and over and over and over again

How many walls?
How many guns?
How many times?
Over and over and over again
Over and over and over again

The chorus and the bridge are almost indistinguishable in lyrics. This part serves as a reinforcer for what Rise Against’s message is in this song: how many times are we going to let this happen? How long will we let this drag out? The band intentionally does not define what ‘this’ means — the listener is meant to give meaning to ‘this,’ filling in the blanks with whatever one is frustrated with.

The two verses, however, are widely different in sound. While the chorus follows the same tune as the other choruses, the bridge is slower until it hits the “over and over and over again” line. The song instantly switches from a depressive, helpless sound to an angry and fed-up one, leading into the last verse of the song.

And how many lives have been wasted?
How many bodies laid to rest?
Sick of the lies, the same old story
All over and over and over and over
Over and over and over and over again

It is clear here that Rise Against asks about the purpose of those lives lost. In the same interview linked above, McIlrath said he and the band didn’t want to specifically point to Trump because he wanted the song to be applicable globally. When I listen to this line, I think of not only survivors of gun shootings, but also the Syrian refugees, the Rohingya genocide, the homophobia killing thousands of people who dared to love, the lives lost in pointless war.

The song isn’t meant as a lament on what has happened — the instrumental would not be angry and fast if it was. It’s a call to action pointed to Rise Against’s target audience: how much will you endure until you decide enough is enough?

What do you think of the song? Let us know below.

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