Posted by deStructuralized in the QN5 Forums.
I accidentally listened to the album backwards on iTunes’ Recently Added playlist, and it still seems to retain some semblance of narrative sense–ending in darkness rather than in light.
I sincerely hope this interpretation doesn’t offend Kno/Deacon/Natti or violate their artistic intent. I chose to dive deep into the narrative elements of the album, and overlooked the question of theme and several of the metaphors. I know that Kno doesn’t like it when narrative is stressed too much, but I figured I’d share my thoughts with you on how the story functions backwards, ’cause…well, I thought it was pretty cool that a story was still being told in reverse play. Sorry in advance if this irritates any of you three.
The Light – Like ‘Where Will You Be,’ this track sets the tone for the rest of the reversed album. Simply, how does one cope with hardship and tragedy? Can we “grow in the cold,” or do we fail to look inside ourselves and remain trapped? As the track seems to suggest, the truth will set you free–that is, examining a tragedy and coming to grips with your identity and the multiple explanations/factors behind it may help you rise above it.
What’ll You Do – the protagonist is at a crossroads, and is also experiencing difficult times in his life. He is caught between his commitment and love for music and his knowledge that pragmatically speaking he must turn down “love” lest he fall into suspension. He is on the verge of giving up–
–yet is given encouragement by a voice of innocence. It sounds like a little girl who calls, “lay it down; lay it down; lay it down; lay it down again.” (ref: Never Know Why).
Hellfire – Enter the antagonist. This track seems to characterize an egotistical, overconfident individual – paralleling the protagonist in Since When in APOS’s chronological play. I interpret this track as an introduction to the firefighter who leaves “hopeless folks roastin’ like it’s a joke but sicker” (ref: The Gates) for being impure in color like “mixed drinks.” At the beginning of the track, the antagonist feels he is a god of flame that can’t be contained. By the end, fire has physically and spiritually consumed him–“it’ll enter your soul, you can’t control the limits.” That is, he dies in a blaze he’s working through.
Damnation – The words on this interlude can be interpreted as the antagonist’s thoughts as his soul rises from his body. The firefighter wishes he could “pull down the shutters” of truth and avoid the “damnation [that] is near.” He wishes for religious assistance but ultimately acknowledges that the devil takes many forms and colors throughout all planes of reality–and that perhaps the devil has lived through him.
The Gates – The journey’s over, and the antagonist’s departed soul rests breathlessly. He asks–almost begs, if you listen to his delivery, for “lights out”–for those who will judge him to temporarily overlook the truths that have given him a restless life. He takes this time to reminisce in preparation for what comes ahead. It would seem he’s ready to face the truth, but his perspectives on his life reveal that he isn’t ready to acknowledge his own racism and culpability for murder. He attempts to pass through the gates. Feeling no remorse, he is forced to face judgment, and consequently, Hell.
Never Know Why – Cut back to the protagonist. Based on Deacon’s delivery and the overall feel of the track, I interpret this song as his coping with the death of an ethnically-mixed relative–an infant/child, possibly the little girl referred to in What’ll You Do (“lay it down again”). It’s very possible that he is either legally or biologically related to the antagonist; he describes the grandfather as horrified by the child’s polluted and diluted genes, his resulting estranged relationship with his own daughter, and his death. Does love conquer all, and is it enough of a reason to live righteously (ref: What’ll You Do)? Apparently, not anymore–“that area’s grey.” Needless to say, his source of encouragement has been eliminated.
Cut to Immortal Technique’s verse. When played forwards, the album seems to relate this verse to the antagonist. In reverse, it can be interpreted as the protagonist bitterly rebelling against life after being unable to cope with reality. Additionally, it can be interpreted as an older version of the protagonist, “looking in retrospect” at his life and finding that he doesn’t regret the hate he’s lived with after the event. Also interesting to note is that he differs from the antagonist philosophically, and refers to “talk[ing] all religious trying to barter with death” with disdain. Overall, this foreshadows the protagonist’s fall. He is about to “vanish”…could he, perhaps, be awaiting execution (ref: America Loves Gangsters, Brain Cell)?
America Loves Gangsters – Cut back to the present; the protagonist has chosen to deal with his pain destructively. This is expressed well by Natti, who says the protagonist “has enough angst to handle the handle and squeeze the trigga,” and is arrested for it. There’s still some semblance of good in him; he’s not hard, scarred, or real enough to actually go for a kill. Yet he has chosen to react dark when facing pain.
Brain Cell – the reversed interpretation of APOS gives this song a new significance; the protagonist is literally sitting in a cell and realizes he has been trapped throughout his life. He’s gone from cellular phones to in a cell on a phone, confined behind bars. The trigger he squeezed jammed the gun (ref: America Loves Gangsters)…if this connection is made, then he, is in fact, not going to be executed because a bullet was never fired. More insight is made into the cause of his crime–he was motivated not only by rage, but by the need to steal money and suppress his pain with drugs.
Beautiful Girl / Hourglass – He finds solace in drugs, then realizes he needs a different source of guidance.
Caved In – Years of incarceration have left the protagonist even more bitter than he used to be–he feels he’s been “federally fucked” by “snug cuffs,” and is disgusted by the cops’ omniscient gaze over the public. He still prays for hope, but still feels that life is pointless.
Nothing to Give – The darkest song of the album, both in forward and reverse order. “Fresh outta jail clothes” (ref: Since When), our protagonist has immersed himself in a world of superficiality and crime. The light inside has been suppressed–avoidance of morality (and perhaps God) has allowed the protagonist to downplay the negativity of his actions. “For the love” is no longer a valid reason to “keep life in suspension” (ref: What’ll You Do?);he’s too “ashamed to be just.” Our hero has fallen. He’s the type of person he used to abhor the type that destroys the lives of others out of bitterness.
Since When – The uplifting, flavored feel of this track now poignantly accents the irony behind the tragedy. Our hero has regained his confidence and will to live, but has done so by compromising his empathy and living life to cause pain for others. The interlude fits in with the ironic sort of feel. Truth and identity have not been found. Healing has not occurred. The bitter cycle of “pain begets pain” continues (the antagonist was bitter at the loss of his wife and the racial relations of his daughter).
So that leaves us with the question–where will you be tomorrow, if it life, love, tomorrow ends today? The same question is asked when the album is played in forward or reverse order. The question is answered with two opposite scenarios, but ultimately the message is the same.