"Sprawl I (Flatland)" as written by Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Richard R Parry and Jeremy Gara....
Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the house where we used to stay
I couldn't read the number in the dark
You said "let's save it for another day"

I took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You're talking at me, but I'm still far away

Let's take a drive through the sprawl
Through these towns they built to change
And then you said "The emotions are dead"
It's no wonder that you feel so strange

Cops showing their lights
On the reflectors of our bikes
Said "Do you kids know what time it is?"
Well, sir, it's the first time I felt like something's mine
Like I have something to give

The last defender of the sprawl
Said "Well, where do you kids live?"
Well, sir, if you only knew what the answer's worth
Been searching every corner of the earth


Lyrics submitted by firstgreenroom

"Sprawl I (Flatland)" as written by Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury, Richard R Parry, Jeremy Gara

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Sprawl I (Flatland) song meanings
Add your thoughts

23 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +5
    General CommentOk, I'll just analyze this bit by bit...

    Took a drive into the sprawl
    To find the house where we used to stay
    I couldn't read the number in the dark
    You said "let's save it for another day"

    Here I believe he is going into his old neighborhood (suburb) to find where he used to live, and he couldn't even recognize his own house even though it was something he truly anticipated, and another person who doesn't seem sentimental about the situation says "let's save it for another day", like it doesn't really matter if they ever see it again or not.

    I took a drive into the sprawl
    To find the places we used to play
    It was the loneliest day of my life
    You're talking at me, but I'm still far away

    Again, connecting to the roots of his past. He goes to all the places he remembered as a child, but when he hears the other person's voice, he feels far away and disconnected from those memories - as if he doesn't belong there at all.

    Let's take a drive through the sprawl
    Through these towns they built to change
    And then you said "The emotions are dead"
    It's no wonder that you feel so estranged

    Here he is driving through places he knew from the past, but they have all been obliterated and replaced by 'changes', and he doesn't feel 'at home' even though he feels like he should. And the other person points out that "the emotions are dead" (meaning that the place has been so changed, there is no value to it whatsoever), and it seems the narrator is in a sort of denial. He really does want to belong there, but deep inside he knows that it's true - the emotions are dead... He barely knows where he is, and he does, indeed, feel 'estranged'.

    Cops showing their lights
    On the reflectors of our bikes
    Said "Do you kids know what time it is?"
    Well, sir, it's the first time I felt like something is mine
    Like I have something to give

    By saying "it's the first time I felt like something is mine" I think he is speaking about his neighborhood, and about his supposed 'home'. And I believe he is saying "like I have something to give", not because he wants to contribute in any way, but because he feels like he has to 'give' his home/neighborhood back, because it's really not his. He really craves a place where he can call "home", but he really can't find it as much as he wants to.

    The last defender of the sprawl
    Said "Well, where do you kids live?"
    Well, sir, if you only knew what the answer's worth
    Been searching every corner of the earth...

    This is very powerful in my opinion... Here the man is asking where they live, and he explains that he has been searching for his true home everywhere, yet he has not yet found it. Therefore, he is technically not living anywhere. He has no permanent 'home'.

    I believe the message of this song is that there shouldn't be a stereotype on what a home should be. Because a lot of times in movies/songs/etc., it shows people trying to find themselves by going back to their roots and their childhood. Any place could potentially be a home, but then again, no place truly is a home. Maybe he is trying to imply that a home is the people you are with, and not the place. Because a land or a house will never fill the 'void' of not knowing where you belong. If you really are surrounded by people you care about, a home can be found anywhere.

    It's also a song about change - nothing ever stays the same. Sometimes you stay the same, but the place changes. Sometimes the place stays the same, but you change, and sometimes both you and the place change.

    This is definitely (in my opinion) the best song on 'The Suburbs'... It's so powerful in a way I can't even describe.
    hijkjjnj99on August 09, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentYou're not supposed to be where you are right now. Something has happened that changed the rest of your path through life.
    DWAlmonteon July 30, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentWhen I first heard this album, this is the song that really stuck with me, personally.
    I lived in The Woodlands (essentially the place that this album is based on) from 1992 to 1996, and this album dictates life as an adolescent and teen there very well.
    Still, by far, the worst time in my life was there, one of the things that I really enjoyed about that period were the bike rides into the wilderness. The western part of The Woodlands, past what is now Kuykendahl Road, used to be miles of open forest, old logging roads, abandoned deer stands and hunting cabins, an isolated reservoir and dam and it was fantastic to explore. This is what we would do in the summer: bike out there, past the "No Trespassing" signs and into this quiet, much more wild landscape. It was so interesting coming from the staleness of the sprawling subdivisions.
    When I came back in 2000 for college, it was kind of a blow to my nostalgia to find all of that gone. Every bit of it has now been developed. I imagine that this is what a lot of the song is about. The Butlers lived there about the same time as I did, and I can definitely relate to returning to the place after several years and finding it vastly different, very much for the worse.

    Another little personal thing: it was common with the cops in The Woodlands, at that time at least, to take kids' names and info on where they lived. I don't know what they did with it, but I was asked a couple of times, even though we were doing nothing wrong at the time.
    bocmaximaon August 11, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMany houses but not many homes. Just a place to sleep. Emotionless shacks. The energy/memories/life has been sucked out of what once was. You can't run the streets and have crab apple fights anymore as long as you come home by dark. Things are different and people live very individualistic lifes so nobody trusts anybody else and everyone is too busy to enjoy life and it is passing many...this is the result of having suburb homes inflate from $20,000 - $50,000 to $200,000 to $1,000,000. Different vibe.
    kidsonbuseson August 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLoving the variety on this album...this one reminds me of Ticket To The Moon by ELO ...

    "I've got a ticket to the moon but I'd rather see the sunrise in your eyes..." Strikingly similar vocals wow.
    SynergisticEnergyeXchangeon August 10, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI took a drive into the sprawl
    To find the places we used to play
    It was the loneliest day of my life
    You're talking at me, but I'm still far away

    I relate so much whit this part, always passing by my old neighborhood full of memories, and yet impossible to share(or communicate) the feeling whit my wife (don´t understanding or not caring)...in general the whole album give me the feeling of you been always surrounded by a lot of people but in the end always feeling alone and lost in the memories of my youth.
    alonsovgon August 18, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is such a hidden gem to me. Reminds me so much of the eerie ominous vibe of Exit Music (for a film) off OK Computer.
    impevanon October 10, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI find this to be one of the more touching songs on this album. The last lines are particularly moving, although, if you listen to them without the rest of the song, with the heavy, weighty minor chords, they almost seem too sentimental. The journey from the first line is essential.

    "Took a drive out to the sprawl"

    He doesn't say suburbs. The sprawl is a more negative term, suggesting a sort of wasteland. To be sprawled is also to lay supine. The fact that "sprawl" figures both in the title and another song suggests that he's talking about more than just a place. He's visiting a state of mind. Given the context of the song, darker times. Or perhaps the darkness is just that he cannot retrieve these old memories.

    "To find the house where we used to stay"

    A house, not a home. Stay and not live. He is introducing impermanence; for a brief time, we jst existed here, now we've moved on.

    "I couldn't read the number in the dark"
    "You said 'let's save it for another day'"

    Question: is the "we" of this song a companion that used to live with him? It seems not because the speaker feels alone. His companion is someone he met later in life. It's not hard to imagine this is Win and Regine, but it could be any couple.

    Can't read the number -- of course this just refers, in a literal sense, to the house, but in the context of the song, it seems to fit with the general sense that he can't quite revisit the past. Being physically there doesn't help. If we imagine the dark to be a depression, a dark time, he's saying he can't quite get a hold of the feelings he used to have here. His companion doesn't feel the urgency he feels to get at those feelings, which intensifies his loneliness.

    The next few stanzas reiterate these themes, but with increased loneliness. He tries to make the journey again but alone (the "I" is emphasized) which only increases his loneliness, and then finally is exhorting his companion to come back with him. S/he offers the neutral observation (still not engaging with him) that "the emotions are dead". But is she saying that the emotions he is experiencing are death, or is it that whatever they refer to is past and therefore the emotions don't mean anything?

    The next stanza is interesting. Suddenly the protagonists are on bikes, and are called kids by the police. Clearly a flashback. We have broken through to memories. The speaker has none of the uncertainty of the current days, instead he confidently says to the police that he's, just now, found some kind of great purpose, something within himself.

    The last stanza is perplexing because this conversation between cop and kid continues, but somehow shifts back into the present. This is indicated because it's "the last defender of the sprawl", which seems to indicate the passage of time; the sprawl is now dying. In literal terms, perhaps there are no budgets for police any more. Metaphorically, if the sprawl is him revisiting a troubled youth... I'm not sure what "last defender" means.

    We also know we're back in the present because the protagonist refers to "searching every corner of the earth", which only makes sense for a person of experience, and the mood seems to shift back into his current melancholy, not his former naive confidence.

    This song is paired with Sprawl II. It's apparently a simpler, happier song. But note that it also refers to the sprawl, darkness, and suburban encounters with the police. In some ways it's the flip side of this song. Instead of from 30somethings of the present looking towards the past, it's about teenagers looking towards the future. They long for the city to give them a kind of purpose, a kind of meaning, that the sprawl doesn't give them. So perhaps this is the source of the protagonist's sudden feeling that he "has something to give". He escaped the suburbs for a time, found people with whom to ally, people who seemed to share the same emotions and needs that he did. That day he returned to the sprawl filled with a sense of purpose.

    What does the protagonist feel now? Perhaps he once again feels emptiness, and longs to feel the way he felt when he was young. Except now he can't blame geography; he's been *everywhere*, and there is some hole that can't be filled. In his mind, he struggles with the guardians of the sprawl, the parts of his mind that say it's foolish to have ever gone on such a quest. He left the sprawl, but it hasn't wholly left him, and he hasn't managed to build the new home that he thought he could out there. And now he can't even say *where* he lives.
    MrGlasson March 14, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"The last defender" is the last cop that was needed to keep the sprawl spreading, because in the past people were fighting against it, against streets and malls taking over the forest, against machines and technology taking over nature and life. The sprawl required defenders and these defenders were cops because the sprawl is basically private property taking over what's left of our common Earth. Now people don't fight that anymore, they have surrendered to it, to the vision of human emotion as something undesirable, to the idea of exploiting and making profit out of every single thing in this world.

    So, there's no need for those defenders, anymore. The one in the song is the last one. There's no need to protect something that's everywhere. The kids have been searching but there's no place in the whole world that feels like home anymore.

    This song is amazing.
    Grapheon August 06, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWin has a degree in religious studies so he might heard of the saying by Byzantine theologist saint Maxime the Confessor: "Mine is only that which i gave away". may be that's why he says to last defender of the sprawl: "I felt like something is mine like I have something to give".
    And then, being asked about kids' home, he answers like that: "Us kids know where no cars go: between the click of the light and the start of the dream". Because this earth is not enough to answer where we kids really live.
    ARomanceofManyDimensionson February 13, 2012   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain