Come to Milton Keynes (on TV in ‘85)
I am not English so I must approach this song with the perspective of an outsider. It’s tourism times two. Even though I am well aware of history, and simple online research can help Americans & etc further with context, there is a kind of disconnect. Arguably there’s at least a commercially viable gap, especially when you also consider the lines of influence that extend from this song. There’s Ray Davies (The Kinks are an obvious, huge thing for Weller and this is straight-up “Village Green Preservation Society”) and Damon Albarn (Blur’s Parklife/The Great Escape, anyone?). Neither the Kinks nor Blur crossed over as big as some of their contemporaries, and Paul Weller is legendary nowhere else as quite as he is in the UK. (Not that it’s a brand new fact either to people who are into music, particularly rock-pop, that the Kinks, Blur or Paul Weller might be worth listening to, English or not, but there are so many essentially English things to unpack. Do you think I was fated to be a Style Council fan as a Blur fan first?) But to keep it simple, Milton Keynes is essentially a small city (or a large town) engineered by the UK government in the 1960s, with particular care put towards a modern infrastructure and design. Historically, the area had been farmland, towns and rustic villages, a long way back.
“Come to Milton Keynes” intentionally looks like a lark, and sounds like a lark, but by the third verse it becomes very clear that Weller is sticking it to someone.
May I slash my wrists tonight
On this fine Conservative night tonight
I was looking for a job so I came to town
I easily adopt when the chips are down
I read the ad about the private schemes
I liked the idea but now I’m not so Keyne.
Perspective on this song is further complicated by statements he would later make distancing himself a bit from his stance. It begs the question: what exactly is the percentage of irony here. 65%? 80%? Or something like 40%? (The wrist-slashing line is particularly harsh.) He does seem to posit that selling the new city Milton Keynes is a self-defeating sell, and whether he truly he means it, or is half-joking about all the controversy re a changing Britain (some of which got irredeemably xenophobic), Weller’s take is undeniably influenced by nostalgia (We used to chase dreams now we chase the dragon). Overall, the performance feels like a send-up of a bad advert for a holiday, and he doesn’t even have to mention the concrete cows.
Note: Youtube video comment sections often let you down if you are searching for anything other than trolling and cheap shots, or lols, but in this case you just have to read this stuff because MK locals (?!?!) are arguing about the depiction of the town.