At Rock Bottom

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2020
Original album - (none)
Producer - Stuart Price
Subsequent albums -(none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Monkey Business "

"It's sort of about the opioid crisis in America, people dying of drugs," Neil has said of this song, the b-side/bonus track for "Monkey Business," the third single from Hotspot. Stylistically it's a highly distinctive throwback, reminiscent of the original seven-inch mix of "I Want a Dog" (as opposed to the "housed-up" Frankie Knuckles mix on Introspective), but with a deeper, richer production. Its relatively sparse lyrics deal with public reactions to drug-related deaths, perhaps of celebrities in particular:

Everyone talks about their loss and the legacy
Sharing condolences, offering sympathy
But at rock bottom what got him?

Neil then repeatedly intones, "It's all about…," which at first suggests how "it" (the talk? the condolences?) is "all about"—that is, all around, all over the place. But then he transforms the "all about" idiom into a more conventional grammatical structure by giving the preposition an object: "It's all about drugs." This ambiguous statement has at least two possible meanings that hinge on what "it" refers to. If "it" refers to someone's death, then "It's all about drugs" merely points to drugs as the cause of death. But if "it" refers to the way "everyone talks," then it might be an expression of regret over the way that when someone (especially a celebrity) dies of a drug overdose, that terrible fact often overshadows his or her life and accomplishments, at least in public discourse.

The title phrase "at rock bottom" is similarly ambiguous. Most obviously, it refers to how someone who dies of a drug overdose has, in common parlance, hit rock bottom. But it also describes public discussion, particularly in the news media, about the specific death at hand. Sensationalistic talk and reportage when someone dies of drugs exemplifies how the media itself has hit "rock bottom." Neil surely implies this when he sings about waking up "from the media reverie" and instead thinking about "how hard it was" for the person who died: "And that means that someone was lonely and in pain." Instead of focusing on how he (or, as the case may be, she) died, we should instead give serious thought to why. Toward the end of the song, the background vocals answer this question for us; while Neil's lead continues to assert "It's all about drugs," his background vocal now counters "It's all about love." In short, while the media and the public in general drone on about drugs as the cause of death, the underlying cause, the reason the deceased turned to drugs, was love—or, much more likely, a lack of it.

At one point in the song, Neil bleakly sings, "We're all at rock bottom"—yes, all of us: those who die of drug overdoses, those still addicted to drugs, the sensationalistic mass media, and, ultimately, the rest of us who are part of the wider culture that engenders it all.

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