National Ransom

Album: National Ransom (2010)

Songfacts®:

  • This is the title track of British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello's 2010 album. The record is a collaboration with Raising Sand producer T-Bone Burnett, who previously worked with Costello on King of America, Spike and Secret, Profane and Sugarcane.
  • The lyrics of this garage rocker allude to the Wall Street banker culture and the disarray they caused at the end of the 2000s. Costello explained in an interview with Vanity Fare that whilst the song references the chaos created by the bankers, the ransom is one to which we're holding ourselves. He explained: "We've handed over the power to these other things: 'Those geniuses over there/ They're the economic scientists.' Just as there once used to be those great documentary shorts about the future. There'll be walkways where we wouldn't need legs. And jetpacks. When did that stuff turn up? They use them in airports. That's the only place they have any use. We don't' have them on the sidewalk - don't you remember those future-world projections?"

    Costello continued: "Some of them were good ideas, some just fanciful. We've allowed ourselves to believe because of our own weakness and greed that we want to be able to afford everything and we don't want to think about the consequence of every transaction we make. I include myself in this. "Where did that apple come from? Did it come from down the road? How'd it get here? What kind of fuel was in the truck that brought it here?" You can go crazy considering all those interlocking transactions - but that's the kind of ransom we're holding ourselves to."
  • The song features longtime Costello collaborators keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas.

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