When The Future of the Left released The Plot Against Common Sense in 2012, it was a nice slap in the face to start the summer. The band hovers around punk, noise, and garage rock, but what is most characteristic of the band’s sound is the cultural and philosophical critiques that barb the lyrics. Throughout The Plot Against Common Sense, the band leaves nothing sacred, tackling the Occupy Movement (“Sorry Dad, I Was Late for the Riots”), Hollywood (“Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop”), restaurants (“Beneath the Waves an Ocean”), and of course, the music industry (“Sheena is a T-Shirt Salesman”). They cover a lot of ground across the 15-track run time, but the thesis statement of the band’s view is saved for the last track, “Notes on Achieving Orbit.”
“Notes on Achieving Orbit”, instead of attacking specific interests of today’s culture like previous tracks, attacks the way today’s culture allows these things to happen. The song embodies all of the sarcasm, disdain, and humor that was apparent throughout the record and sums it into one cogent argument. In the first verses, singer Andy Falkous questions “Where were you when Russel Brand discovered fire?” and “Where were you when Pele cured cancer?” Rather than sticking with just the media industry or the sports industry, the band is speaking to idolization of celebrity and the constant need to find the next new thing to absorb. This first verse not only comments on the obsession with celebrity, but also the blatant lack of awareness and education of today’s culture.
The middle bridge states “Going bald was the new Nirvana / staying out late was the new Nirvana… / then any old shit was the new Nirvana.” This refrain captures the need for music journalists (and by proxy, audiences) to find the next big thing, whatever it may be. The reference to Nirvana is an intentionally dated one — since Nirvana’s time there hasn’t been a “new Nirvana.” While the band could have used anything in place of Nirvana’s name drop, the particularly old reference shows the failure of this idolatry.
The song’s pre-chorus ascends to higher and higher registers as Falkous proclaims: “Simon says we’ve got no future / at least in terms of life on Earth.” The music here builds and builds and gives the feeling of achieving orbit (as the title suggests). If Simon Cowell of all people realizes that Earth is doomed… then where the hell are we? This building up leads to the cathartic “sha la la la la la la la” against the bludgeoning music. By taking a pop-music trope (“sha la la la”) and placing it in an inhospitable atmosphere, the band is cheekily giving the music industry what it wants: a sing along chorus.
Within 6 minutes, The Future of the Left comments on modern culture’s vapidity, need to draw comparisons, eagerness to pioneer taste, obsession with celebrity, obsession with nostalgia, doomed future, failed generation, lack of education, homogeneity, and obedience to authority. “Notes on Achieving Orbit” is similar to the way Sharon Van Etten summarized her musical philosophy in a comparable time frame with “All I Can”; the result for both of these songs is a track that not only stands on its own as one of the band’s best, but one that encapsulates everything they stand for.