Seven Nation Army: The Left's Soundtrack To Deliverance

by Niall Walker

The soundtrack which greets the septeganarian Labour leader as he takes the stage, CND banners waving above his earnest, docile following, may seem comical from a distance. Today, millions of us are hoping it is a herald of victory.

You can hear it in the thunder. It ring in our ears like a cri de coeur of times gone by. As if it drifts through the standards raised by fallen monsters, beyond our hopes or imagination, just a spectre of our forgotten fears.


It starts with an E; a baritone tremor, cannonfire stilled under the weight of its own echo. The G distorts, screaming; the notes begin their marching descent, a volley of vibrato in serene, syncopated simplicity.


Seven Nation Army owes itself to Jack White's misapprehension as a child of the name of the Salvation Army. Fittingly, an anthem that seems in perpetual metamorphosis has now become the soundtrack to our deliverance. A journey from fretboard to football terrace has veered, inevitably, towards the theatre of politics.


How couldn't it? Hidden beneath the thumping staccato and trembling crochets lies something which ignites our tribal instincts. Emptied from the throats of a crowd, the song ascends to something far beyond that which leaves White's guitar: we reach the rhythmic, riveting emotion of unity.


A tale of two armies


How differently we can imagine the past to have stepped. For Seven Nation Army's release in March 2003 coincided with the beginnings of that other, infamous warbeat. As the West's military industrial complex sauntered back into the Middle East, too drunk on the taste of their financial success to care that it was laced with blood, what better soundtrack could they have hoped for than the bellicose bassline thundering out of every English-speaking radio?


Yet this was no 'ordinary' war, if such a sickening notion exists. Iraq was Abu Ghraib; stage-managed spectacles for 24-hour audiences; Dick Cheney. Lies and death and years and years spent sweeping aside an ancient civilisation, so global corporations could inhabit the ensuing wasteland at ease. This was a non-linear, war-on-a-metaphor hunt through our own imagination; a battle that drained popular consent for military intervention, just as 2008 would for neoliberalism.


As the security thickened in airports and the surveillance of our online activity increased, we were recast from bystanders by our paranoid governments into potential threats. It may have taken a decade, but the disillusionment of these events neatly trace to today's enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn.

Related: Gaining Momentum - how art has driven the Labour Party's transformation

The pacifist


Corbyn rose to prominence as a leader of the Stop the War coalition, which mobilised millions on to the streets against the invasion. His pacifism - a symbol of ineptitude for his critics - now marches towards power with a soundtrack that explicitly chimes with a call to arms.


Life may not always create simple formulae, but it possesses a poetry that can often be delicious. The two armies that marched through the wavelengths in 2003 have taken paths which, however asymmetrical, have led them to the same absurd destination.


As the contradictions of the present once again explode in to the future, what appeared once as farcical now faces us as inevitable. The soundtrack which greets the septeganarian Labour leader as he takes the stage, CND banners waving above his earnest, docile following, may seem comical from a distance. Today, millions of us are hoping it is a herald of victory.

Niall Walker is the Founder of The Radical Art Review. Reach him at radicalartreview [at] gmail.com

The Radical Art Review is a non-profit cooperative platform fuelled purely by people power for those who think art holds the potential for social transformation. We publish the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of all who dare to dissent. We seek to inform, to empower, and to dream collectively of a better tomorrow.

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  © The Radical Art Review 2020