“Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval

Here’s a free double-whammy of depressing-ness! Hope Sandoval is known as the voice behind Mazzy Star, a 90s psychedelica band, whose most famous hit is “Fade Into You.” My favorite off of that same album, however, is “Into Dust.” It’s haunting, chilling, and on more than one occasion, made me cry when I’m driving into work at the coffee shop at five in the morning.

After Mazzy Star disbanded, Hope Sandoval had a solo act, and, more recently, guest stars on Massive Attack’s latest album, Heligoland (Virgin, 2010). The great thing about Massive Attack — besides their awesome radicalness — is their changing repertoire of vocal talent. Others have included the lovely Sinead O’Connor, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame, Guy Garvey of Elbow, and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio. Star-studded, right?

It’s unfortunate that when we feel a stone,
We can roll ourselves over, ’cause we’re uncomfortable.
Oh well, the devil makes us sin.
But we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.

Love is like a sin, my love,
For the ones that feel it the most.
Look at her, with her eyes like a flame.
She will love you like a fly and never love you again.

Oh my goodness, do I love this song. No only is the music haunting with subtle, heart-beat like percussion, but the simplicity of the few piano chords then blooms into an orchestral wall-o’-sound that is enveloping and beautiful. Hope Sandoval’s just right mix of breathiness and pout convey the emotional breadth of the song.

It’s an interesting concept, thinking of love as a sin, which, in its turn, is caused by the devil. Free will is taken out of the situation entirely, hitting a person unexpectedly, driving them out of themselves, much as love is wont to do. A greater force — the devil, not usually associated with love, but as I wrote a 94 page thesis on the devil, I can say, with no exaggeration, that it’s not THAT out there — causes the hurt and the aggression that love can spawn, especially an unequal love. Flames, flies, stones — these are all antithetical to God, to good, and are associated with devilry. Love, in its unrequited, crazy-obsessive form, can lead to this crushing area of heart-break and betrayal.

And the betrayal comes in with my favorite line, “but we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.” (Some say that last word is “grip,” but the symbolism is so much better if it’s “grin!”). This is allusive to Dante’s Inferno, in which the three greatest sinners — Brutus, Cassius, and Judas — are in his mouth (and now, forever in my brain, spinning as well.) Their sin is betrayal of Julius Caesar and Jesus, respectively.

Love has a way of making us be someone that we’re not. We pretend to be better, funnier, more extroverted, or even change our tastes to suit what we think the other person wants. At its core, this type of love is dangerous because a person can get lost, refuting themselves in order to please someone else. It’s this type of self-betrayal that leads to “flames,” and in a later verse, a smile made out of them. In contrast to the devil in Dante’s Inferno, which is freezing because he’s so far away from God’s warmth and love, a person can burn up and be consumed by the rush of being someone they’re not.

The inversion of the coldness of the devil as opposed to the intensity of the flames plays off of the title. It’s a circus — a long-standing tradition of reversing traditional values — of Paradise. What should be one of the most sublime feelings is, instead, a vacuum of suffering and delusion. Love burns, but sometimes it’s not a assuaging kind.

This shows the trickster aspect to the devil. In the West, we’re so used to the Puritanical version of a being so powerful that he is at odds with God, causing people to sin, that we forget most of the world has a slightly more sympathetic viewpoint, in which the devil is more of a rascal, running around, subverting people’s beliefs only to show them the ridiculousness of their own actions. Sometimes, the devil can do some good, by being bad, as we learned from our Faust. An awesome book about said Devil is the trilogy by Jeffrey Burton Russell, beginning with the excellent Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity.

I read all three when writing my thesis, along with several other tomes about the different aspects that the devil has played throughout his varied career. I had to convince the librarian checking me out that I wasn’t in a cult.

This trickster though, can take love and subvert it into something harmful. Are there lessons to be learned from such a thing? If we can roll ourselves over, yes.

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