Outcry and events on a global, or even national scale, inspire people to take action. Some of those actions are useful, and others are musical, as UB40’s Robin Campbell may have alluded to in this interview. More recent protest songs have taken a nosedive because the message is just that, right on the nose and expresses no desire to be something more than a message of rejection or appropriation. Hey Hey Rise Up is as broad and unconvincing as it gets. Enough is Enough gives Pink Floyd, or what is remaining of it, a run for their money, but this latest track from the remains of a universally influential group putting down the Ukraine war is a bore regardless of intention.
Collaborating with Andriy Khlyvnyuk gives Pink Floyd that necessary connection to the war in Ukraine, with the Ukrainian national cutting short his tour and heading home to fight for his homeland. Pink Floyd join that fight in their own way, a near-four-minute prog-rock snooze that proves once and for all protest music is dead. Or is it? Hey Hey Rise Up is a chilling track at times, and whether that is through the novelty of seeing Pink Floyd almost back together or through the imagery striking through emotional range for the band is unknowable. Pink Floyd has not lost their talent for instrumentals, and the stunning work David Gilmour lays out here is an incredible turn of form that cements him as the beating heart of the definitive prog-rock band.
But even with Gilmour at the heart of it, there is some recourse over how empty a track it feels. Without the imagery associated with the single, the clips of warfare and a country under siege, give a lot of visualisations to a track that has none. Khylvnyuk offers up some unremarkable and bland lyrical assertations that were expected and necessary rather than inspired and moving. Hey Hey Rise Up is a smorgasbord of politically active protest intentions that never quite comes together despite the sophistication of the playing style on hand. Cheering up “glorious Ukraine” will take a bit more than a four-minute track that relies on the horrors of war being used as backdrop filler for a music video.
So-called legacy acts are given a bad name for these exact tracks. Hey Hey Rise Up may have grand intentions toward supporting those fighting back against historic oppressors, but what is it for Pink Floyd to say? Because the bar is now so low for this sort of protest song, from the abhorrent Artists for Grenfell to the disastrously comical and historied similarities of Sting’s Russians, it is hard to take much of it seriously. Listeners are a long way away from the likes of Tramp Down the Dirt by Elvis Costello or the powerful and ever-contemporary reparations of Jarvis Cocker’s Running the World. Legacy acts and the likes, U2 and Primal Scream included, see strife that moves them as an opportunity to declare the obvious, to show they still have some talent within and are using it for something not as powerful as they believe it to be.