Abdullah Siddiqui has done it again. On the heels of his second album, Heterotopia, he’s released Dead Beat Poets, this third collection of the stories he tells through his songs, without a break in between.
Dead Beat Poets also marks a departure from Abdullah using obscure Greek words to describe the complex nature of each of his albums.
Listening to one of the first songs from this incredibly prolific artist’s album, 'Video Game', one can understand why the album is called Dead Beat Poets. Embodying his signature style, the lyrics are incredibly complex and speak in metaphors, allowing the listeners to deduce what they will. But in this album, he turns even that mystery up a notch or two.
The song deals with an increasing level of angst in Abdullah’s music. It’s an angst that’s both introspective and yet observational — focused on those he clearly has a complicated, bordering-on-toxic relationship with.
Abdullah both writes and produces music that is visual. Through the lyrics one can deduce that the relationship he’s referring to is probably one with old friends. The video games in the background are games being played while Abdullah spends his time feeling stuck, unseen, not quite fitting in and the turmoil this clash — between his authentic self versus where and who he is with — is creating for him. And from that space of separation from the others, he is able to see their shallowness, their hypocrisy.
Abdullah Siddiqui’s latest, 'Video Game', is an aural experiment that conveys the dissonance of the lyrics
The pre-chorus goes: “You play your video games/ I won’t be living in shame/ We’re not so different, you and I/ You’re bold, you’re leaving them slain/ I’m more a cynical maim/ I have no violent peace of mind.”
In the main chorus, Abdullah sings: “I saw your red face and I’m dropping dead/ Seems the polite thing to do now/ I’m scratching my coffin lid/ There is no right time to move now/ Guns and ammo running/ Feel myself succumbing/ To your video game.”
But the part of the lyrics that really stood out for me were: “You all decided to explore yourselves/ the honest parts that no one ever wants to see, and then/ That’s where you found me in stitches/ Because I live in that uncomfortable space/ So violently introspective.” This is where the lyrics hit the nail on the head, where you really understand where Abdullah is coming from.
“No violent peace of mind.” “Violently introspective.” A clash, a contradiction, a constant inner turmoil. And the long, seething darkness that brings.
'Video Game' is one song that commands your full attention when listening to it. Because it’s not just the beautifully written, mysterious lyrics, it’s also the multi-layered, atmospheric music Abdullah has produced to go with the poetry. There are intricate details hidden inside the song that reveal themselves only when you are listening carefully.
Atmospherically, the song communicates a dark unease at the start, with a distorted violin sounding a sinister alarm at the back while Abdullah sings to a slow, knocking — almost on different surfaces: wood, metal, drum — and just a three-tap on the keys of the piano, before the bass adds volume to the song during the pre-chorus.
At the chorus, the artist moves from his alternative-experimental to his pop roots. It’s here where we get a glimpse of the ‘old’ Abdullah — but it’s short-lived.
While most Pakistani artists become ‘safer’ with their music over time, eventually finding and sticking to their comfort zone, Abdullah has only gotten more and more experimental with his craft.
'Video Game' is not an easy listen. But it is addictive once you listen to it properly. For me, at least, it has that suspension-of-disbelief effect. But I’m also acutely aware that 'Video' Game may not be everyone’s cup of tea — it’s a song you will either love or love to hate. Let’s hope it’s the former.
Published in Dawn, ICON, February 7th, 2021