No Flag

Album: Hey Clockface (2020)
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Songfacts®:

  • This thunderous rock song features lyrics from the perspective of someone feeling alienated from society.

    No time for this kind of love
    No flag waving high above
    No sign for the dark place that I live
    No God for the damn that I don't give


    Costello wrote the song in early 2020 and released it on June 5, by which time it had taken new meaning in the era of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.
  • Costello recorded the song in February 2020 in a Helsinki, Finland studio. He sang and played all the instruments on the track: guitar, bass, organ and drums. Explaining his decision to record in the Finnish city, Costello said, "I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me. So, this is 'The Helsinki Sound.'"
  • The song seemed ever more prescient after the protests following the police killing of George Floyd. However, Costello told The Independent he's no clairvoyant; rather, the tribulations of 2020 are nothing new.

    "There's some days when there is no hope, no philosophy, no theology, no deity gives me solace from the feeling of hopelessness that I have, but you don't stay there very long. It's been a summer of turmoil, for a number of reasons, between the pressures of the pandemic and brutal events that then trigger protest and reaction and violence, all of that stuff you can take sides on, things you can't avoid seeing, [but] I'd already written all of that. All of those things were already happening, they're just in focus now because of all the conditions."
  • Elvis Costello released "No Flag (en Français)," a French-language version featuring vocals by Iggy Pop. Speaking during Rolling Stone's Musicians on Musicians discussion series, Iggy said it was quite a challenge doing the song in French. "No other language has vowels that sound like that," he said. "Learning a song that's as quick as 'No Flag' took a month of practice because my lips weren't used to those combinations... I [worked on it] for 40 minutes a day for about five weeks."

    Iggy Pop has form for singing in the lingua Français. His 2012 record Après contains several covers performed in French.
  • Costello revealed that "No Flag" features a subtle reference to an Iggy and the Stooges song, saying the title should have been a clue right away.

    "It shared one word and one letter with a famous song of yours," Costello explained to Iggy during Musicians on Musicians, referring to the Stooges song "No Fun." "But nobody spotted where it was drawing from because nobody expects me to take a cue from you."
  • "No Flag (en Français)" is accompanied by a music video featuring hand-drawn animation by frequent collaborators Arlo McFurlow and Eamon Singer.
  • Costello denied that "No Flag" is a protest song. "That might be something lost in translation," he told Mojo magazine. "People want to see 'No Flag' as a protest song, but I didn't see it like that. You're writing and it's like what does it feel like when you get to the end of your tolerance? What does that place look like and feel like? I guess that's what No Flag is. But I don't send out pamphlets telling people what my songs are about and how you should feel when you listen."
  • Elvis Costello recorded two French versions of "No Flag" for an EP of French-speaking tracks featuring Iggy Pop. La Face de Pendule à Coucou features French adaptations of songs from Hey Clockface.

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