As the last track of Richard and Linda Thompson’s masterpiece of despair Shoot Out the Lights, “Wall of Death” by its title alone sounds like it could be the most disturbing song on the album. Punctuated by Richard’s ringing twelve-string electric, this 1983 song and sound obviously had a big impact on bands in this era, and it should be no surprise that R.E.M. – themselves known for their ringing guitars – later covered the song.
On its surface, the song is simply about a carnival ride, “Let me ride on the wall of death one more time,” the Thompsons sing. But look a little closer and it’s easy to see this as a metaphor for living life, with life itself acting as the “wall of death.” Lines like “you can waste your time on the other rides / but this is the nearest to being alive” and “you’re going nowhere when you ride on the carousel” only reinforce this idea to take risks – and risk death – rather than take it easy.
This theme makes “Wall of Death” the ultimate closing song for Shoot Out the Lights; even though things don’t work out the way that you’ve planned, this “ride” is still the most exciting one you could have been on.