“Bullets” by Archive, a London-based trip-hop band, is a powerful song. It is very aggressive musically and lyrically, though it hides its meaning behind disjointed words. Bullets communicates meaning through the feelings evoked by its sounds and suggestive language.

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You can read Bullet’s lyrics in full on AZlyrics.com. It’s full of what appear to be non-sequiturs and looping, endlessly-repeating phrases. Unlike most pop music, it doesn’t tell a simple narrative story that listeners can follow in linear fashion.

The lyrics melt into the overall musicality of the track.

The lyrics are designed to defy a listeners’ attempts to focus on them and follow what is being sung. This is supported by the relative levels in the mix, where the vocals are overpowered by the punchy breakbeat, shredding basslines and overdriven guitars. The lyrics melt into the overall musicality of the track.

Lyrical analysis

But what can we glean from the lyrics themselves? The opening lines are the most cogent:

Come touch me like I’m an ordinary man,have a look in my eyes,underneath my skin there is a violence,it’s got a gun in it’s hand.

Listeners are invited to draw close and peer inside the singer. Inside him is a rage, fighting to get out. Where is this rage directed?

ready to make sense of anyone, anything

This is a man desperately seeking understanding, striving to overcome confusion, with a determination fueled by his inner turmoil and rage.

Black holes living in the side of your face,razor wire spinning around your …around your (blistering sky)

These are pictorial descriptions of some of the apparently senseless things that he wants to understand. They suggest another person with darkness inside and a defensive exterior.

bullets are the beauty of the blistering sky

These bullets are metaphors for his attempts to understand, fired from that raging desire inside him. And if they hit their target, they bring beauty, or understanding.

Confine me let me be the lesser of a beautiful man,without the blood on his hands,come and make me a martyr come and break my feeling,with your violence with the gun on my head

Here is a final plea towards the other person, to help him to understand with their own violence and their own gun (symbols for understanding). He seeks relief from his one-sided struggle to make sense of his relationship with this person.

personal responsibilitypersonal responsibilitypersonal responsibilitypersonal responsibility

The final refrain is repeated over and over. It’s suggestive of the weight of responsibility he feels to single-handedly figure things out and fix what’s wrong.

Emotional punch to the gut

Bullets feels like a song about relationship. In very colourful language, it takes us through the mind of a man struggling to understand another person (presumably a woman) who confuses him to the point of rage. Despite how heavily it weighs on him, his rage gives him a determination to push through the difficulties, bring understanding to his relationship, and find relief.

Even as we listeners struggle to follow a logical thread through the song, we can pick up easily the emotion: the anger, the confusion, the conflict, the sadness, the determination. It only takes a few highly suggestive words to put these images in our heads, which translates into feelings in our hearts.

as the musical intensity ramps up we are tossed on that rising tsunami of emotion

The few words that sink in are bolstered by the music, which explodes prominently at the forefront of the audio mix. The music escalates throughout, starting with a frenetic breakbeat, adding warbling, phasing basslines and synths, and eventually blowing up in a frenzy of distorted electric guitars. We’re on edge from the very beginning, and as the musical intensity ramps up we are tossed on that rising tsunami of emotion that eventually comes crashing down on anyone in earshot.

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Bullets is a triumph in musical and lyrical design. Highly efficient in its arrangement, language and audio mix, it conveys maximum emotion with the minimum of instrumental or vocal effort. The meaning might not be crystal clear, but it’s raw enough that you can practically smell it.