Last Lion of Albion

Lyrics and discussion questions for the song "Last Lion of Albion" by Neko Case

“Albion” is a classical term for the island of Britain. Lion imagery has been associated with Britain for several centuries, but lions became extinct on the island approximately 12-14 thousand years ago, and it is likely that human beings were involved in their extinction. The song contains references to several similar images and symbols.

The lyrics of this song are in some places very abstract and may be quite difficult to interpret. In the linked interviews below, Case explains the specific ideas behind some of the more opaque lines. However, the power of poetry lies in part in its openness to diverse interpretations, so you may prefer to develop your own ideas rather than relying on the author’s stated intentions.

Early in the morning where there used to be a slough¹
There’s a tiny business lake, don’t let the cattails fool you

Down in the bottom where nothin’ is born
Sleeps a silver dollar with your face thereon

I wish I could trace the frowning compass of your mouth
Drop a Mercury dime down a Roman drain and summon Mars

Last lion of Albion
They’ll use you for centuries to come
They’ll steal your patents for the sun
And you’ll feel extinction
When you see your face on their money

Late in the heavens that are already bought
Sleeps a red planet in the galaxy of a lion’s thoughts

On the surface every tendon and intended machine
Is gonna buckle, knuckle, kneel on a carpet of lion’s tongues

Wish I could stand in the spray at the cliff of your sleek² revenge
Ocean of naked, serrated marble crushing in

Last lion of Albion
They’ll use you for centuries to come
They’ll steal your patents for the sun
You’ll feel extinction
Last lion of albion
They’ll use you for centuries to come
Your wound’s the main road into London³
You’ll feel extinction
When you see your face on their money

Last lion of Albion
The last she-wolf to mother Rome⁴
The last virgin to wash ashore
You’ll feel extinction
Last lion of Albion
The last of the Mohicans gone⁵
The last cedars of Lebanon⁶
You’ll feel extinction
Last lion of Albion
Last tiger of Tasmania⁷
The last she-wolf to suckle Rome
You’ll feel extinction
When you see your face (face) on their money

¹ slough: a marshy pool or inlet
² Although the standard expression is “sweet revenge,” the lyrics on the song’s Bandcamp page say “sleek revenge.”
³ Perhaps a reference to the River Thames
⁴ According to legend, the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were raised by a wolf.
⁵ A Native American tribe decimated by conflict during the French and Indian War. Because of the popularity of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans, the phrase is used as a more general reference to the last survivors of a noble population.
⁶ A prized tree whose once-extensive forests have been devastated by overuse and deforestation
⁷ An extinct carnivorous marsupial with tiger-like stripes native to Tasmania

The royal arms of England (By SodacanThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link)

Wolf suckling the founders of Rome (Wikipedia)

Flag of Lebanon (Wikipedia)

Questions for Discussion and Writing

1. What do many of the images in the song (e.g., the lion, the Tasmanian tiger, the cedar of Lebanon) have in common, and what irony is there in people’s use of such images? What theme(s) does this commonality express? Cite specific details and literary devices (images, allusions, metaphors, etc.) from the song that help develop these themes.

2. What is the tone of the lyrics, as distinct from the sound of the music? In other words, what attitude about the subject matter of the song does the speaker seem to be expressing? Cite specific examples from the song to support your interpretation.

3. Given the thematic context of the song, what does the reference to the “tiny business lake” in which “nothing is born” suggest to you? What does “your face” probably refer to?

4. Mars, “the red planet,” takes its name from the Roman god of war. Given the thematic context of the song, what does the reference to summoning Mars suggest to you?

5. In what way is the last lion of Albion “used,” and why would seeing its face on “their money” make it “feel extinction”? Discuss the significance of money as a symbol of the song’s themes.

6. In what sense might lions have a “patent for the sun,” and how could it be stolen?

7. How would you interpret the speaker’s likening of a lion’s wound to “the main road into London”?

8. What significance do the images “the spray of your sleek revenge” and “ocean of serrated marble crushing in” suggest to you? Why do you think the speaker uses the word “sleek” instead of following the standard idiom “sweet revenge”? Consider the various meanings of the word.

9. The lyrics contain multiple references to the Romans. Discuss the thematic significance of Rome (and the Roman Empire) in the context of the song.

Related Resources

The links below contain information about this song specifically and about Neko’s writing process in general that might help you interpret these lyrics. The Song Exploder interview in particular is full of fascinating details.

Lyrics and Discussion Questions for “Last Lion of Albion” (PDF)

Neko discussing the song on the Song Exploder podcast

Spin Magazine interview with Neko

Billboard Magazine interview with Neko

PDF version

Questions © 2019 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.