Hey, everyone! We’re back this week with another cool song. I chose a piece from the group Portugal. The Man. They not only have a unique, badass sound, but also present a unique perspective on the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of society — it’s total college student vibes.
I have classified their songs as “hooligan music,” because you can’t help but wish you were doing something illegal while listening (I’m not saying I have, but the music makes me feel cooler than I actually am). If you want to feel young and rebellious, listen to Portugal. The song I’ve chosen was one of the first I ever heard by them. It’s called “Modern Jesus,” and it’s from their 2013 album, Evil Friends.
Disclaimer: The Jet Fuel Review does not have any official stance on religion or faith, and this by no means reflects the organization’s views. Once again, I am simply analyzing a piece of art from my perspective. While this song appears very anti-religion, especially anti-Christian, we must remember that artists are free to their opinions and views just as we are. Personally, for the record, I am religious, but that doesn’t mean I cannot laugh at religion or recognize the various inconsistencies that humans create while following their faith — which is exactly what this song is talking about.
So, religious or not, I hope you can enjoy this week’s song!
“Come on in
Take a seat next to me
You know we got
We got what you need
We may be liars preaching to choirs
But we can
We can sell your dreams”
This is a really powerful opening verse/stanza because it begins from the perspective of a religious leader inviting non-believers to come and be converted. It has the air of a sales pitch, reflecting the commercialism of the modern world when it says, “we can sell your dreams,” meaning that these people carry false, empty advertisements to the narrator in question.
The internal rhyme of “liars/choirs” is a clever way of conveying the viewpoint that religious leaders are self-righteous because they usually only talk to people who share their points of view (which can be applied to any topic: politics, economy, social issues, etc.). This whole stanza is both overly exaggerated and obnoxiously honest, making it a kind of over-the-top hyperbole.
“You don’t need sympathy
They got a pill for everything
Just take that dark cloud
Wring it out to wash it down, but”
This stanza responds to the first one with a switch in perspective to that of the narrator, who denounces his need for religion. He claims he and his friends are fine on their own without the help of an institution.
The comment about pills can be interpreted as an allusion to the commercialization of pharmaceutical companies, who have somewhat replaced God in the modern world. The narrator claims that there is a pill for any ailment that one could possibly have, so just wring out that “dark cloud” (which could be a symbol for depression) to wash the pill down. This is such a symbolic image, representative of the often cold-hearted attitude most of the world — especially the medical world — has toward humanity.
“Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never
The only faith we have is faith in us”
The chorus focuses on society’s shift from organized worship of God to the importance of the internal human. While certain forms of Christianity are solely centered around evangelism, social media is cluttered with phony people who obnoxiously shove their views down the throats of others with little respect for opposing opinions (and this goes for views on gender, sexuality, politics, money, religion, etc. from both all sides).
I particularly like this song because it declares that there is no need for close-mindedness. Of course, the particular message happens to be speaking about religion, so the “don’t pray for us” is a response, I think, to the phoniness and arrogance that some particular religious people exhibit. The song is also a declaration for independence and freedom of self. This chorus really captures the essence of the song in announcing the popular viewpoint of many young people today: faith in oneself is far more convenient and rational than faith in a God.
“We’re the ones who start little fires
Yet they burn out
But when they’re on the rise
They can’t help but shine”
This little stanza talks about the narrator’s view that even if someone is not part of a religious group, he or she can still make a difference in the world. The “little fires” are simply sparks of change in the world, whether it be advocating for social change or speaking against war.
In the narrator’s eyes, non-religious people are more proactive in changing the world. The third line conveys his idea that people like him can make change and gather support quickly, that they are not discouraged when the fires burn out, and that they cannot help but persevere and “shine.” The slant rhymes of “fires,” “rise,” and “shine” are also lovely components of this stanza.
“And when the wave approaches
Take our ashes to the ocean
Who cares if hell awaits?
We’re having drinks at heaven’s gate”
These first two lines talk about the burial services associated with religion. The narrator calls for a simple dusting of his ashes into the ocean because he couldn’t care less about heaven or hell. I find the slight end rhymes of “ocean” and “approaches” to be rather nice. The last line about “heaven’s gate” could have different meanings. One theory is that it is kind of a symbolic middle finger to religion, as some religions condemn the consumption of alcohol. The idea of a group of people drinking in front of the gates of heaven is kind of like a rebellious “eff you” to believers.
The other theory behind this line is kind of unique, and it renders this part of the song as genius because it’s so cleverly integrated. Many believe this line to be a nod to the religious cult Heaven’s Gate, which committed mass suicide in 1997 by drinking phenobarbital mixed with vodka (hence, “having drinks at heaven’s gates”). It is almost too sly to be a coincidence.
Regardless, this verse recognizes the power that religion has over people whether it be good or bad. It acknowledges the various ways in which religion influences people while staying true to the rebellious theme.
“We know that we’re helpless
At least we always assume
But we don’t need to prove nothing to you
Let’s keep the cool
You don’t need to feel blue
Cause we won’t sell you nothing
You can’t use”
The bridge asserts the awareness that the narrator and his group have of themselves. They recognize that they really have no control over things and that lack of clarity is just a part of life. But they do not care to follow religion, and thus they have nothing to prove to those who do.
This is a nice full circle here because we come back to the commercialism seen in the opening verse with “selling dreams.” The narrator sarcastically states at the end of this whole rant (the song) that there is no need to be upset, because he and his friends actually have something to offer to these religious people: their music. Now the group wants to sell something that they feel everyone could use. The end rhymes of “assume,” “you,” “cool,” “blue,” and “use” tie this bridge together so that it poetically and rhythmically flows into the catchy tune that it is.
Overall, this song reflects the views of a much younger generation that is more willing to invest in themselves than in Christianity or religious values. This song focuses more on the power of the individual human while simultaneously pointing out the flaws in a specifically human-run institution. While the idea is nothing new, it is offered in a unique and valid way of expressing a different viewpoint.
— Haley Renison, Poetry Editor