The Great War. If ever a phrase deserved the oxymoron tag, this one would be at the head of the queue. War is neither grand nor great. In the era that phrase was first coined, the war to end all wars was seen as just that. But in essence all it did was lay the foundations for the next excursion 20 years later into insanity. The alleged successful negations in the railway carriage to herald armistice ultimately proved futile. The workers revolution merely put in place the groundwork for what nearly became a war that was cold for a very long time that came close to boiling hot on more than one occasion. A war that if had taken place nobody would have known how it started. But would have lived for 10,000 years with the knowledge of how it ended.
Bernie pulls no punches on these songs. The imagery is not pretty, the deleted line from 'All Quiet On The Western Front' with stinking tents and thin men dying in them is enough to bring you the very edge of the madness of war. The imagery of 'Youth Asleep In The Foreign Soil' whilst 'Old Kin Kiss The Small White Cross' is the theme here and on Ocean's Away. Those fallen soldiers who were lucky to have a marked grave at least had some tangible symbol of remembrance. Those who were not so lucky...if being in the madhouse that was trench warfare was some perverse idea of a gallant end...merely became another one of the hundreds of thousands of unknown soldiers. For what? The starting pistol may have been fired in Sarajevo but what it was ultimately really all about was that the royal families of Europe couldn't agree with each other on how to divide up the map of Europe to each other's satisfaction. So, as Spike Milligan once remarked about his own calling up to active war service, a whole generation were 'invited' to enforce imperialist dogma. And by the end of it were lost. None ever came back. Those who died 'String The Harps To Victory's Voice'. Those who came back physically to 'the land fit for heroes' were mentally as much as the same as the 'Ghosts (that)Float In A Flooded Trench'. The trench being the home for of the duration of their campaign. A hole dug in the ground...which ultimately was the soldiers digging their own graves...from which they would 'go over the top' to meet their end. A gun pointed in two directions at them. The mindset being send enough towards the enemy machine guns and that eventually the enemy will run out of ammunition. Notwithstanding the fact the best of an entire generation had their 'Human Blood Pouring Forth' as the bodies piled up in no man's land. The other gun pointing at you was from the officer class. These were the days before PTSD, shell shock was the cover it all phrase of the time. If you weren't prepared to meet an inevitable death by the enemies hands, you're own would facilitate your passage to become one of the 'Male Angels'. The firing squad back home was another deterrent. The powers that be daren't take the risk of the pilots of the Royal Flying Corps suffering from nerves and bailing out. To give the pilots parachutes would not have been great for moral was the message to the front. 'Nobody cares' present and correct from all angles. So as 100 years has nearly passed since it's 'Gone All Quiet On The Western Front, remember those who died on the whims of others.
But those who did come back, in physical form, still have the memories. The 'Talking Old Soldiers' don't really talk about their experiences. But they never forget. 'I Hung Out With The Old Folks In The Hope That I'd Get Wise' is in a similar vein to 'Talking Old Soldiers', the younger listener 'Trying To Bridge The Gap Between The Great Divide'. Each year the numbers dwindle. But the memories remain. Ocean's Away is filled with imagery of graves much like the other two songs. Because for most that went there that was there final resting place. The 'Sleeping Bones' lie undisturbed, a monument to their sacrifice. The monuments back home are a recognition of their sacrifice. For the powers that be erect them, unfortunately the impact of the message is lost on them. 'The Few That Still Survive' are the ultimate monument. Because they are 'The Ones Who Hold Onto The Ones They Had To Leave Behind'. Not those at the top. But the men on the ground who now lie beneath it. If the chilling imagery of a cool wind blowing across the shadow of the graves is not a wake up call, then the barrage will never end...and another generation in the future will end up staging their own gathering...
A word on the songs and their musical delivery of some of Bernie's most powerful utterances. All Quiet with Jeff Porcaro's military like work on the snare are a critical touch. James Newton Howard's huge climatic snynth breaks ending with bombastic cathedral like statements. Richie Zito's guitar replies become more aggressive as the song closes. Elton's vocal is wistful, with no anger. The words have enough of that emotion to be carried on their own strengths. Ocean's Away is the perfect extension. Stripped of any of the previous song's elements, the vocal and piano leave the songs sentiment clear for all to hear. No need for me to explain it, listen to it and hear it. Honesty with a 'powerful design...'