In what I think is Killyourstereo.com’s first ever book review, we check out Dear Future Historians by Enter Shikari frontman, Rou Reynolds.
A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend – a massive Enter Shikari fan in her own right – finally received her copy of Dear Future Historians, the first published book by Enter Shikari main man, Rou Reynolds. However, I myself only got around to reading over this lyrical self-analysis of the 31-year-old singer’s music very recently. As after listening to the new All That Remains, New Found Glory, and Lakeshore albums, my brain feels like it has been stunted and in need of some different content to write about. Plus, I still hadn’t gotten around to starting the autobiography of England’s best aggressive logic lover David Mitchell – Back Story – that a good friend loaned me a few months back. (Sorry, Bill, I’ll read it soon, I promise.)
So yes, last month, Mr Reynolds expanded his quite large CV of; Enter Shikari singer, outspoken freethinker, DJ, Step Up creator, trumpet/guitar/piano player, and of being a pretty good bloke, to now adding ‘published author’ with Dear Future Historians.
Titled after the song of the same name that acts as the key emotional crux of their terrific 2015 record, ‘The Mindsweep‘, this 200+ page read is an exegesis of most of Enter Shikari’s current 13 year run of material; with Reynolds penning essays of varying length about the meaning of the band’s genre-bending compositions. This book chronologically spans from the early days of the now decade-old ‘Take To The Skies‘ and ‘The Zone‘ EP, right up to their 2016, scientifically-inclined, Carl Sagan/Neil deGrasse Tyson influenced single ‘Redshift‘ and their most recent banger, ‘Hoodwinker‘, which bookends Dear Future Historians (terrible pun, I know.)
Now, if you’re a hardcore, long-time fan of this creative St. Albans group such as myself (hey, let’s get my bias out of the way early on), then having a deeper, commentary-filled book such as this come from Reynolds was always hoped for. I mean, when you consider his soft but well-spoken nature in interviews, his balanced and in-depth look at the utter shitshow that was Brexit last year in his Step Up podcast (among other issues), and of course, the actual lyrics that he writes for Enter Shikari, prior to this release it’d have been a safe assumption that a book – in whatever style or format – was always on the cards. And now, we have just that!
So, go throw on an Enter Shikari record (any will do, really) or hit play on your favourite custom playlist of theirs and let’s dive into Dear Future Historians.
[Note: as this work is non-fiction and isn’t necessarily a grand, autobiographical take on the band nor the singer’s life save for a few anecdotal tellings, and seeing as how Reynolds isn’t an elusive, mysterious author that has never spoken about his work publically before, I don’t regard anything discussed here as a “spoiler”.]
First off, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the essays held within this book flow as well as Enter Shikari’s actual lyrics, and the character of Reynolds’ writing style still comes across well as he delivers his reasonings and lyrical intents. You feel and see this right away with the book’s enthusiastic yet humble introduction and just afterwards when Reynolds describes why the band makes whatever music they want to and the origins of their mission statement – “Perspective, Unity, Perseverance” – when talking about the band’s self-titled battle cry that kicks off ‘Take To The Skies‘.
Likewise, if you’ve ever heard the bands more… expressive songs like ‘The Feast‘, ‘The Jester‘ and ‘Slipshod‘, you’ll know that Enter Shikari love to have fun with their music, both on a musical and stylistic level as well as that of their song themes. During the essay for ‘Hoodwinker‘, Reynolds acknowledges this aspect of their music, encapsulating the approach to those aforementioned songs, writing: “For me, a sprinkling of facetiousness and parody go hand-in-hand with the criticism of the status quo” and stating how that approach is also what helps to keep one sane when dealing with such grim topics.
However, the real meat of this book comes with the lyrics and their exegesis sections that for me, provided some big revelations at certain parts; parts that are also bound to provide similar eureka moments for both casual and fans. (I’m sure some elitist listeners out there will decry that I’m not a “true” fan because I wasn’t aware of every single song meaning, but I could not care less.)
For instance, I personally wasn’t aware that ‘OK, Time For Plan B‘ was inspired by the Iraq war and was the band imploring that we humans, who have been prone to vast bloodshed across our species history, should instead endeavour to take the non-violent path – the plan B to the warfare option, if you will. An early gem of Enter Shikari’s catalogue that I cherish closely is ‘Acid Nation‘ and it’s melodic, uplifting nature always sat right with me from when I first heard it at 15 years of age. Reading that that song’s very musical timbre correlates to the nature of mental health and the need to expunge our inner demons with those close to us suddenly makes the singer’s hearty call in the song of “a celebration of spirit and the mind” a lot more sensical. Funnily enough, this was one of “those” songs that helped my mental health stave off its own demons as a budding teenager too. Go figure.
Slightly outside of the actual song explanations is Reynolds comments on how touching it is to hear how the dynamic and emotional ode of ‘Adieu‘ has been adopted by their fans for weddings, funerals and other such key life occasions. Oh, and I also feel justified in my dislike of the band’s breakthrough single and still (somehow) fan-favourite, ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner‘, with Reynolds declaring: “…and, as we progressed, we’ve tried multiple times to bury it.” Something that the singer and drummer Rob Rolfe echoed to me last year when they were in Melbourne for their ‘Redshift Australian Tour’. Look, the sooner that ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner‘ is dropped from their setlist, the better all our lives will be!
One of my all-time favourite Enter Shikari song of mine is the short but brutally sweet whirlwind that is ‘The Paddington Frisk‘, yet its thematic origins have always eluded me. The singer came across this term, among a host of other medieval colloquialisms in a book about the colonisation of our own fair Australia. It turns out that the “Paddington Frisk” is a rather macabre 18th-century term describing the struggling some poor sod would make as they are being hanged by the neck until death. This means that the song’s “leafless tree” line is actually talking about the wooden gallows and that “the Paddington spectacles” mentioned are referencing the bag/blindfold placed over the soon-tobe-dead individuals head. Cheery stuff.
Then there’s the breakneck and euphoric ‘The One True Colour‘, whose meaning I deemed almost secondary simply because I loved the song itself and didn’t see any further reasoning for looking deeper into it. However, I cured my ignorance of the song’s origins with Reynolds double-spread explanation, detailing how every religion teaches and enforces that their way – their “colour” – is the correct one and to outright avoid or even disregard the other “colours” (religions.) In fact, one thing I never picked up on was how the song’s final lyrics ‘And then the atoms that you borrowed/They are returned to the cosmos/They are returned when you’re…” is finished by the song’s last chord, which is made up of these four notes: D, E, A, D. Fitting, conclusive, pretty damn bleak and rather interesting I must say.
Also, right up until this book, I’d glossed over of the final Latin phrase Reynolds speaks to close out ‘The Appeal And The Mindsweep II‘ – “Mutato Nomine, De Te Fabula Narratur“. Which translates to “with the name changed, the story applies to you”. Now that I think about, that line concludes that song and that amazing record perfectly – the universal story of our world is about all of us humans as a collective and not just one individual. It was thanks to this book that I actually acknowledged that integral part. So cheers for that one, mate!
Those above examples are a grand representation of Reynolds‘ lyrical imagination; an element that has served Enter Shikari immensely well across their solid career. But honestly, for any Enter Shikari fan worth their true weight and salt, some of these songs don’t really need these added explanations. As I find that through the process of critical listening and thorough analysis on the listener’s part yields the origins and authorial intent of these songs quite clearly.
At the very high risk of sounding like a condescending twat, of course ‘Arguing With Thermometers‘ is about greedy energy companies and the “arms race” for the Arctic’s remaining resources and obviously, ‘There’s A Pirce On Your Head‘ is about class warfare. Duh, ‘No Sssweat‘ deals with exploitation and the abuse of authority – whether via law enforcement, ruling classes, or local councils shutting down music scenes – and I shouldn’t have to tell you that ‘Statemate‘ takes umbrage on a very familiar human topic – war and how it is propagated. It’s clear that ‘Gap In The Fence‘ and ‘No Sleep Tonight‘ tackle the many issues that vast social and economic inequality can create, and no shit is ‘Anaesthetist‘ about the gutting of the UK’s National Healthcare Service (the NHS), making me very thankful that I live in Australia. It’s also starkly obvious that ‘Juggernauts‘ is about striving for unity and community against larger, unsound corporate entities that would place mere profit over actual people.
Again, some of these songs can really have their intent and meanings fully extracted by some basic lyrical analysis and a few repeat listens.
With that being said, the essays attached to all of those aforementioned songs are still appreciated and are still very much welcome for someone that’s very familiar with this band’s music, such as thyself. And I can only imagine the wealth of context and meaning that they could (and will) bring to other curious fans out there.
Simply put, Dear Future Historians is a must have for any and all die-hard Enter Shikari aficionados out there!
However, there are a couple negatives here, and the main criticism I have is that I would have loved for every song present to have an essay attached to it. See, while this book is indeed comprehensive of Enter Shikari’s discography, I can merely just look up the band’s song lyrics with a couple clicks via the omnipresent tool that is Google – like on sites such as azlyrics or genius.com. As such, further justification and exegesis (if only a paragraph or two) would have further added the warranting of some inclusions here.
For sadly, select songs don’t get any expanded essays of their original intent. From non-album singles such as the ripping ‘Thumper‘, career set staple ‘Destabilise‘ and the killer yet underrated tune that is ‘Quelle Surprise‘ to cuts like ‘Labyrinth‘, ‘Anything Can Happen In The Next Half Hour‘, ‘Johnny Sniper‘, ‘Seach Party‘, ‘Wall, ‘Tribalism‘, and ‘Slipshod‘, among a few others, do not contain any essays or further analysis. Which is a bit of a shame. Although, diehard fans of ‘The Mindsweep‘ will be stoked, as that album has an essay for every single song except for ‘Interlude‘ (for the obvious reason that I shouldn’t have to state) and ‘The Appeal & The Mindsweep II‘.
Of course, to provide the benefit of the doubt, maybe Reynolds and publisher Faber Music thought that those songs were self-explanatory in their own right? (To be fair, that really does apply to ‘Rat Race‘, ‘Sssnakepit‘, ‘Radiate and ‘Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide‘.) Maybe it would have cost more to have a lengthier book published or maybe the vocalist simply forgot what had originally sparked those songs in the first place? Maybe it’s even all of the above? Who knows.
I bring this up as one of my favourite punk rock records of all time is Anti-Flag’s fantastic 2006 release, ‘For Blood And Empire‘, and what made me love it to a greater degree was how the lyric booklet contained essays, info and sources about each and every track. That bolstered songs like ‘I’d Tell You But…‘, ‘Emerge‘, ‘Project For A New American Century‘, and ‘State Funeral‘ to be that much more poignant and impactful with their added context. For the most part, that’s indeed true of Dear Future Historians, but it could have been to a much greater extent.
I also can’t talk about this book and omit to mention how ‘Today Won’t Go Down In History‘ isn’t actually included within these pages; with the lyrics/essay apparently having being written and primed but slipping through the printing stage and only being caught after it was too late. Honest mistake aside, this does irk me somewhat as I personally adore that wondrously epic and chilling track and consider it to be a real highlight of the now severely dated ‘Take To The Skies‘. Perhaps a digital edition of an essay about ‘Today Won’t Go Down In History‘ could be serviced to all buyers of the book via their respective place of purchase? I mean, places such as Amazon and Music Glue keep their purchase records surely. Hell, maybe even an essay written up on the singer’s phone, screenshotted and posted over his socials could work well as “compensation”.
Just a couple of ideas, really. Sincerely, please feel free to use any of them, Reynolds.
Also, the lyric page for ‘Solidarity‘ reads “and no the floodgates will open” instead of “and now the floodgates will open“. So which one is it Rou? Are the floodgates open? Are they!? Answer me, goddamnit!
Overall, in terms of structure and presentation, think of this read as akin to that of Parkway Drive’s 10 Years Of Parkway Drive rather than say, Corey Taylor’s Seven Deadly Sins. Much like that Parkway Drive book, throughout this insightful look into Enter Shikari’s lyrics, you’ll find archival promo and tour photos, as well as some truly terrific, exclusive snaps from their always glorious live shows. Despite being simply still images, these live photos capture the band’s immense kinetic energy superbly; breaking up the lyrics and essays nicely. So massive kudos to two of the photographers here – Alexey Makhov and Jordan Hughes – as their photos truly stand out and then some!
Also, thankfully, in all of Reynolds annotations, he provides the actual sources to other authors and literary works that substantiate his positions and his lyrics. That alone seems like such a simple thing to state, I know, but in the current age of media and the Internet, sources are always necessary and skipping over them or omitting them outright makes you look like an utter bellend.
Now, in all seriousness, one thing that can kill an interview dead is when you write up your questions that ask the interviewee to do some introspection and self-analysis of their work. Sometimes, this yields great responses (read: content) that make one’s job much easier. However, on some occasions, once you present your question(s) to the subject and they begin answering, you suddenly realise you have put more thought into their music/art/work than they actually have. This isn’t the case with Reynolds. Quite frequently does he go into great detail about his lyrics intent and the time in which he wrote them – something that not all musicians can do nor do well – and as he ponders in the book’s introduction, he feared that the thought of him being a published author would go to his head and that just is not the case here. Just like their actual music and lyrics, his authorial expansion is well-written, humble, and at many times, thought-provoking.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Dear Future Historians is that you can read it front to back, or just keep it as a reference when you’ve got Shikari spinning and you want some context on what you’re listening to. Reynolds states in the book’s beginning that this is something he would’ve loved for some of his favourite bands, and he’s gone one step further than his favourite bands and given just that to the uncountable hordes of Enter Shikari followers out there.
For once again, Dear Future Historians is a must have for any Enter Shikari aficionado, as this will become your new bible.
Oh, also; good font, nice print, book smelt nice, would read again.
Okay, so as we traditionally rate releases out of 100, I suppose I’d score Dear Future Historians a good to solid 80/100, as it’s a great, insightful read! Also, I’d have done this piece sooner but we Aussies got the book later than other parts of the world, so you know, deal with it.