Black Mambo is the first single and second track on the 2014 debut album ZABA by English rock group Glass Animals. Noted for its vivid imagery, dark mysterious lyrics, and psychedelic narratives, the song Black Mambo has more to it than actually meets your ear.
The song was written back in 2013 when the group’s singer and songwriter Dave Bayley was influenced by the show Breaking Bad. The original title of the song was ‘Crystal Meth’ – a reference to the main drug cooked in the show by its protagonist. Given the controversial original name of the song, the group’s record label didn’t allow them to use it. Dave also ended up watching a documentary on crystal meth abuse by Louis Theroux. Realizing the harm it may cause, the group changed the name of the song to Black Mambo.
Interestingly, the song was not meant to be used on their debut album. The group wanted to come up with more original content and ideas. But they realized that it fits the overall dark and psychedelic theme of the album. And so the song stayed!
The literal interpretation of the song is about two characters – a sloth and a mole – who square off in a game of dominoes. But the song has a deeper meaning and connection to how inequality and power are played out in the real world. Read on to find out about the Black Mambo lyrics meaning.
What Does the Title Mean?
In an interesting anecdote, Glass Animal’s frontman Dave Bayley originally titled the song Crystal Meth. He was inspired by an episode of Breaking Bad and paused mid-show to spend the next two hours writing this song. He titled it Crystal Meth because that was what the show was about.
But he later changed the name to Black Mambo when the label refused to include it under the original title.
The title is a reference to the deadly square off or game played between the sloth and the mole in the song. Mambo is a Latin dance style and music that originated in the 1940s in Cuba. This dance is considered to be quite fast and rhythmic but requires slow and precise movements to perfect. In the song, the sloth goads the mole to gamble in the hopes that he loses. But the mole is cautioned to go slow and think rationally through the game.
The title’s interpretation refers to the classic underdog story that is also at the heart of Breaking Bad. Despite his more powerful adversaries, Walter White uses his intellect to outsmart and get the better of them. Similarly, the world is full of unequal and exploitative relationships. The Black Mambo lyrics meaning is a call to the underdog to pause and reflect on the best way to move forward.
Verse 1 – What Does It Mean?
What’ll it be now mister mole
Whisper sloth in curls of smoke
Take a back seat
Or play pharaoh
Dance with me
And shake your bones
The first verse introduces two characters – the sloth and the mole. In this case, the mole is clearly at a disadvantage as the sloth is the one who calls the shots. The line “Take a back seat or play pharaoh” is a sinister and tempting invitation by the sloth to the mole to gamble. Pharaoh is a late 17th-century French gambling card game.
The sloth calls the mole out to dance with him a reference to the Mambo dance in the title. Only this time, the dance is a duel in the hopes that the mole will lose himself to gambling.
The first verse is a dark and mysterious introduction to the exploitative relationships that exist between the powerful and the powerless in the world. Those in power goad and entrap the powerless in games of their own making.
What Does the Chorus Mean?
It’s a science
He’s been waiting
To bring you down
With a sly smile
He can hold you
And shake you child
All through the chorus, the mole is warned to slow down. He is reminded that the game has a science behind it and that he can ace it if he thinks through it. The Black Mambo lyrics meaning behind the lines “Snake eyed with a sly smile” is a description of the sloth’s cunning personality and slyness. The mole composes himself realizing the sloth is waiting to defeat him. The line, “He can hold you” points to the sloth’s power over the mole if he defeats him in the game.
The sloth’s unfair advantage is what people with wealth and power enjoy. They can only hold on to this power by picking on the weak and the powerless.
Verse 2 – What Does It Mean?
Leopards laze each
On plush pillows
Of red and chrome
In their deep doze
Twitch their toes to
The Black Mambo lyrics meaning in the second verse is a reference to mighty onlookers who view the game from the comfort of the ‘plush pillows’ and ‘paperback dreams’. The sloth and the mole eventually decide to play a game of dominoes. All this time, the leopards are oblivious to the power play that is happening.
The leopards are symbolic of a larger audience, couched in the comforts of their wealth and privilege. Apathetic to the unequal power dynamics at play, these are the kind of people who will enjoy the show without much thought to the rules of the game. Their privilege blinds them to all that is unfair and unjust.
In the same way, the privileged of the world are not concerned by how the powerful tread upon the powerless.
Verse 3 – What Does It Mean
Wanna play cheat
Now says the sloth
Flush to his nose
Tickle that cheek
And take your throne
Pump your veins
With gushing gold
As the game proceeds, the sloth and the mole are now engaged in a game of dominoes. The Black Mambo lyrics meaning behind the lines ‘Wanna play cheat’ refers to the sloth offering the mole a chance to one-up him in the game. It is a tempting invitation to the mole to “take your throne” and “Pump your veins with gushing gold”.
These lines point to the tricks used by the powerful sloth to tempt and trick his playmates. The mole is offered the chance to “pump his veins with gushing gold” so to speak. A play on the idea of taking drugs and narcotics to stay in the game, these negative coping strategies are the last resort for those who are defeated in the world.
What Do the Closing Lines Mean?
We can hold you
We can hold you
We can hold you
We can hold you
The last line of the song, “We can hold you” is a sign of the mole’s victory. Heeding the chorus to slow down and use his mind, the last lines remind him that he is not alone. He has the support of all those who lack positions of power in the jungle. He is reminded that he need not rely on cheating or ‘gushing gold’ to win the game.
The Black Mambo lyrics meaning is a psychedelic play on the haves and the have nots in society. The song is a reminder of the unfairness and injustice in the world. It exposes the trickery of those in power who exploit the weak or the underdogs to remain wealthy and powerful.
Symbolic of the world we live in today, Black Mambo by Glass Animals is a novel and imaginative take on the status of society today.