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Regression as an unfavourable solution to climate change in Talking Heads ‘(Nothing But) Flowers’

ByLibbi Hutton

Mar 19, 2023
Image of David Byrne

Consider this statement: The natural world will one day monopolise and wind itself into each and every pre-existing man-made structure. Does this sit positively or negatively with you? David Byrne, the lead singer of Talking Heads, confronts the reality of a world post-Anthropocene, overrun by nature, through an anti-romanticist and humanist lens in ‘(Nothing But) Flowers.’ 

The song begins with the narrator naïvely conceiving the post-apocalyptic world as a ‘Garden of Eden,’ but soon questions the absence of necessities such as a satisfactory dinner. The narrator’s discontent with the lack of microwaves and discount stores is threaded through images of idyllic natural scenes, tearing us between admiration for nature and dependence on materialism. Slowly, Byrne picks a side of this debate as he uncovers more of the hardships of a world without ease. The tone becomes more satirical, mocking the middle class’s romanticist aspirations to return to a pre-capitalist world. Indeed, the world without infrastructure would not be paradisiacal for the average human of the ‘developed’ world, largely because the materiality and practicality of our world have become synonymous with living.

This song can be analysed as a cautionary tale. Those who wish for regression, as the narrator did, will come to regret it; it is not as utopian as it seems. The phrase “you got it” repeats throughout whilst the narrator lists off further hardships of being “stranded” in this new lifestyle. A warning towards naïve desire. Such are the lyrics “as things fell apart nobody paid much attention,” in juxtaposition with the jovial and untroubled melody. Here, Byrne uses the melody to convey the cloud of delusion through which the romantic sees their idealised post-climate crisis world.

The song’s pertinence is perhaps even more significant in 2023 than at its release date in 1988, with a growing number of people favouring regression over progression. This angle has perhaps developed more steam due to the overwhelming corruption of the modern world (to put it short), so it is, of course, a valid opinion to hold and one that is easy to sympathise with. In this light, Byrne’s message is not a pro-capitalist nor anti-environmentalist one but more a reminder of the luxury that is available to us privileged folk in the here and now. We should internalise this message and, instead of fatalism dominating our view of the future, work with the resources we have to prevent further global catastrophe.

Image:David Byrne @ Future of Music Policy Summit 2006” by vonlohmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0.