Music for the Apocalypse #14: Four Minute Warning, by Mark Owen

by Apocalypse Womble

Mark Owen isn’t a natural music choice for me, and he didn’t exactly make a big splash on the scene as a solo artist after TakeThat split, but I have to give him props for ‘Four Minute Warning’, which I find to be both entertaining and catchy without being annoying and possessed of an unexpected wry humour from a popstar who’d always struck me as rather cookie-cutter (if admittedly pretty).

There’s the old game that you’ve probably all played at some time, whether drunk at a party, or earlier on in the playground:

Four minute warning,
Everybody wants to know,
What should we do?

As the lyrics say, Mark Owen gives us ‘a few short stories’ – no more than flashes, glimpses of people’s lives as the warning goes out (‘Is this the end?’); it’s like hint fiction:

1. Sasha stands in his yellow café,
Yes the heart of the city is here,
So he tells me,
Sitting on his red leather sofa,
He’s rolling another,
Man, I’ll see you when I see you.

2. Polly is said to be the next big thing,
In her high-heeled boots and her two inch earrings,
Heart of glass, Blondie, sings in her ear,
You’re a rock queen, honey and we all hear you!

3. Lucy had a hard time with love,
But love recently chose the right time for Lucy,
Loving when you know it’s the final time,
She now holds time in her own mind.

4. Yeah, Jimmy’s is a local for Michael,
A Guinness in one hand, in the other a fable, able,
I once asked are you a lonely man,
His reply was non-committal,
I am what I am, man’.

5. The final story is one of me,
Who with four minutes left has used up three,
I think of you, I think of me,
Then I think of nothing, it’s the end you see, yeah!

I like that these are bare slices of life, painted in swift, watercolour strokes. Because there’s not much of a story, or even close of a story, that you can fit into four minutes. Despite the typical answers to the question of what you’d do with four minutes notice of your death, you’re unlikely to be able to make love, or rob a bank, or find your loved ones, or read the last chapter of your favourite book. You might try to make a phone call (I suspect this would be it for many of us, really) but I’d imagine the traffic would put the networks down. You’ve got just enough time to listen to your favourite song, or sit in a bar or café and enjoy a few sips of a beverage as you accept your fate.

It’s an awesome video, too – people going about their daily business, some people trying to accept their fate, but all dissolving into chaos in the end, as people run with nothing to run to, but simply because they must. Even the soft, unmelodramatic melody speaks wryly to the futility of just about any activity conducted in four panicked minutes: ‘The final story is one of me,/Who with four minutes left has used up three’.

So, why not put this one on when the warning sounds? If you’re lucky enough to have a shelter nearby it even has a handy count down around each minute mark to let you know how long you’ve got left to grab the cat and your favourite book before sprinting for safety. And if not? Well, you could do worse than picking out a song that’s four minutes long and sitting back to enjoy the apocalypse with a wry smile on your face.

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