Is Paolo Nutini trying to say something about Scottish Independence?

Lucy Brisbane asks if Nutini’s new song is telling us to “rise” for a reason.


Paolo Nutini is back with a new sound which is sure to get his old fans excited and gain him a whole host of new ones, myself included. He has left behind the sweet indie/soul pop of 00s and gone down a more mature road, reminiscent of soul music of the 60s. Politics were a big part of 60s soul which was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement in America. I wonder if the Scottish singer will be taking his influences seriously and talking politics in his new album ‘Caustic Love’, out next month.

The latest track to have been posted online prior to the release is ‘Iron Sky’, a soulful anthem complete with brass section, guitar solos and raw, impassioned vocals. It also features an extract of the political speech given by Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator. The lyrics are powerful, commanding listeners to “rise” from our “cold society”. I doubt that these are empty words.

Nutini is frequently name dropped by Scottish nationalists, as if the fact that Scotland has produced talented and successful creative people is surprising enough to make you vote for independence. Inevitably it is very difficult to find any record of him talking about what he’ll vote in this year’s referendum. Record label press people are unlikely to ever let their stars talk politics, particularly with topics as polarising as this one, which are unlikely to sell records across the (currently) United Kingdom.

The lyrics of Iron Sky are indirect enough that Nutini and his label may get away with denying that there is any exact message, but they seem to me to pretty explicitly be encouraging a vote for independence. The opening line, “we are proud individuals, living for the city” could certainly relate to the relationship that many Scot’s have to the centralised powers in London and Westminster. In his gravelly Paisley drawl he exclaims that we must put our “mind[s] over fear and into freedom”, in the words of the (embarrassingly over referenced) Braveheart.

The extract from Charlie Chaplin’s speech says: “You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful. Let us use this power.” Is this a call to use our power to participate in the referendum? As a Scot who will probably be voting yes to independence come May, and someone with an interest in politics, I hope it is.

We may question the relevance of artists talking about politics. I certainly did when David Bowie gave his two pence at the Brit awards sending the message ‘Scotland, don’t leave us’. But popular music lately has been so deprived of any real message, it is exciting to hear pop with a point. Whether you agree or not with the implied sentiment, Paolo’s passion certainly adds a new depth to his sound. Perhaps it might even encourage a few more Scots to vote for ‘freedom’, if the effortlessly uncool Alex Salmond doesn’t claim this song and ruin it first.

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 in Smiths 2013 - 2014.

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