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What is the story/meaning behind this song?

A few lyrics I find especially hard to understand:

  • Is the author using the song title ironically?
  • Does 'house of cards' in lyric is built by what they saying?
  • What is meant by 'a ship on the horizon with a menacing metal harpoon'?
  • 'Empty all the pockets of the victims of the baby boom': what does that mean?

This song has a good rhythm and singer has a good voice, but the lyrics are hard for me, as a non-native English speaker, to understand.


Now the fat cats are crying over wasted milk
And the trees are bending over to make room for the moon
Put a plague on the house of cards they built
There's a ship on the horizon with a menacing metal harpoon

Do as I say, not as I do
Do as I say, not as I do

Vice is a virtue with cameras and curfews
Little scaremongers of impending doom
Political Medusas make us stare like statues
Empty all the pockets of the victims of the baby boom

Do as I say, not as I do
Why should we listen to you?
Do as I say, not as I do

Oh to all the people that I might have offended
It wasn't that intended I hope we can amend it
Do as I say, not as I do
Oh to all the people that I might have offended
You probably needed it, so take your cake and eat it

When we were the bright sparks
Firing off the circuits in the right parts
Flicking every switch, blasting holes right through your blood clots
Swimming through the red cells that bind me to you

If we hit the ice age
Should we start again or turn the next page
Picking up a pick-axe, playing harps like a ribcage
Shaking off the cobwebs that keep me from you

Do as I say, not as I do
Do as I say, not as I do

Oh to all the people that I might have offended
You probably needed it, so take your cake and eat it

Why should we listen to you
Why should we listen to you

Do as I say, not as I do
Do as I say, not as I do

(SOURCE: ED HARCOURT - DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO LYRICS)

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Regarding the song as a whole

According to the website Pop Matters,

“Do As I Say Not As I Do” addresses the issue of double standards.1

The song is also briefly discussed in an Ed Harcourt interview with the Dutch online magazine, Written in Music:

WiM: On the first single Do As I Say Not As I Do, the politicians and the banking industry in particular are given a lot of attention in poetic discoveries such as 'Political medusas make us stare like statues', 'empty all the pockets of the victims of the baby boom', and 'Now the fat cats are crying over wasted milk'.

[EH:] That's right! It is my way of saying with a lot of dry humor that it is time for the taxpayers to want their money back and that all forms of corruption should be exposed.2

Specific lyrics

The song title

The phrase itself is generally used ironically. Here that irony is double, because the title is intended to suggest that the "ruling class" justifies and dismisses its excesses by expecting its subordinates to do better.

Put a plague on the house of cards they built

A "house of cards" refers to something that appears sturdy but which is in fact very fragile and can fall apart easily.

The phrase "a plague o[n] both your houses" is a quotation from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The character Mercutio uses the phrase to curse two families whom he believes are both in the wrong.

So this lyric in the song is saying that a curse should be placed on the fragile system built by "the fat cats": that is, by the ruling/dominant class.

There's a ship on the horizon with a menacing metal harpoon

Harpoons are used in hunting whales, sharks, and walruses, animals which have been invoked to lampoon wealthy or powerful people.

This line suggests that the people described in the song should look out to see that they are being hunted.

Empty all the pockets of the victims of the baby boom

In the absence of an answer from Ed Harcourt, I find the most likely interpretation to be that the baby-boom generation has become wealthy by stealing from their descendants (the "victims"). In other words, this lyric reflects the attitude of the baby-boom generation.


1 Andrew Dietzel, "Ed Harcourt: Lustre", 29 Jun 2010. https://www.popmatters.com/126934-ed-harcourt-lustre-2496180071.html

2 Robert Schuurman, "De hervonden vrijheid van Ed Harcourt" [Ed Harcourt's Newfound Freedom], 16 Nov 2010. https://writteninmusic.com/interview/de-lusten-en-de-lasten-van-ed-harcourt/ (translation via Google Translate).
Original text:
WiM: Op de eerste single Do As I Say Not As I Do krijgen met name de politici en het bankwezen er flink van langs in poëtische vondsten als ‘Political medusas make us stare like statues, empty all the pockets of the victims of the baby boom’ en ‘Now the fat cats are crying over wasted milk’.
[EH:] Dat klopt! Het is mijn manier om met veel droge humor te zeggen dat het tijd wordt dat de belastingbetalers hun geld terug willen en dat alle vormen van corruptie aan de kaak dienen te worden gesteld."

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  • Thank you so much! First glance at house of card let the famous House of Cards (American TV series) shows in my brain. Helps a lot! – roachsinai Dec 16 '20 at 10:21

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