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…" before he finishes the sentence, "It's all about drugs." The completed line may point merely to drugs as the cause of someone's death. But by teasing the listener repeatedly with regard to what “it’s all about,” Neil might be implicitly criticizing 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 the 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 starting to think 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 she died, we should 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 vocals now counter"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.


List cross-references