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In “Atomic Kid,” Versus sounded an alarm that proved prescient

In Hear ThisA.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

The fourth album by beloved indie-rock band Versus, Two Cents Plus Tax, came out in May of 1998, 15 years that feel like a lifetime ago as far as lead track “Atomic Kid” is concerned. It’s a meditation on nostalgia for the Cold War, the end of which, “Atomic Kid” asserts, left war hawks jonesing for an enemy to obsess over: “Disappointed the threat is gone / Get nostalgic for bombing runs / But don’t you think it’s true / We’ll be afraid again soon?”

How prescient that line proved to be. Three months after Two Cents Plus Tax’s release, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda made their first big move by bombing the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Two years later, they struck again with the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. No one needs to be reminded about what followed in September of 2001.

I hadn’t sought out “Atomic Kid” after what happened in Boston; I just happened to be listening to my favorite Two Cents Plus Tax song—the nearly seven-minute epic “Morning Glory,” a Hear This for another day, perhaps—when I started the album over and was struck, once again, by Richard Baluyut’s lyrics: “Don’t you think it’s true we’ll be afraid again soon?” It was an odd question to ask during peacetime while the U.S. economy thrived. Fifteen years later, as the Boston Marathon bombing proved so well, it’s not even a question anymore.