“We live in a society” might have started life as a quote from a frustrated George Costanza, but it’s since become a devastatingly accurate internet meme. It pokes fun at certain galaxy-brained individuals who think that simply acknowledging the hypocrisies and injustices of modern life counts as enlightened activism. These people are broadly correct about the problems of capitalism, society, and so on, but it’s not enough to have the right opinions. Activism needs to focus on helping the marginalized, and sticking an “#EatTheRich” on a tweet only helps your own ego.
“Evil Elephant”, a delirious fever dream by the British psych duo TTRRUUCES, could have fallen into this trap if it wasn’t careful. Its lyrics lean on typical, thunderously unsubtle anti-capitalist themes (“everyone in their little box”, “it’s never enough”, “9 to 5”), and its “Pink Elephants”-inspired music video makes use of the classic juxtaposition between the grotesque and the Disney-esque. It’s well-trodden ground, and I was prepared to roll my eyes and move on.
I’m glad I didn’t. “Evil Elephant” may not reinvent the wheel, but even the most familiar elements are executed perfectly. The lyrics are disconnected and free-associative, with strong imagery that enhances the song’s nightmarish atmosphere. They touch on the soul-sucking qualities of a bad breakfast (“sour milk, burnt toast”), the gaudy decadence of the upper class (“trophy wives, diamond rings/Cocaine in the limousine”), and the commodification of modern intimacy (“pre-packed pre-paid love for everyone”). It’s not subtle, but neither is your alarm clock, or the latest intrusive advertisement.
The lyrics work, but the music and atmosphere are what really sell this song. “Evil Elephant” is absolutely relentless, moving implacably while noises and voices swirl around you like the “It’s a Small World” ride of the damned. The main vocal melody is a devilishly catchy sing-song that’s as whimsical as it is sinister, front and center or gurgling through a distorted vocal filter. All the while, the song disappears down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, daring you to keep following it as though you could possibly stop.
What lifts “Evil Elephant” above other songs that criticize society or capitalism is that it’s fun. It doesn’t lecture you, and it’s never burdened by a sense of capital-I Importance. It’s not an easy or a predictable ride, but if you let yourself go and give in to its ceaseless forward momentum you’ll find yourself carried away by its imagination and humor.
“With stable rates of employment/You could be anything,” the lyrics promise. “Even an elephant!” Of course, the cruel joke is that the miserable cartoon elephants of the music video have no choice in the matter, just as we have no choice but to participate in a society that feels more and more like a bad trip each passing day.