Cage The Elephant – “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” is a song about the harsh lives that many people lead in this world and the hard-heartedness people show towards each other. The lyrics use examples of various criminals to demonstrate the flaws of human nature and then reveal that immorality is something we all share in.

Lead singer Matt Shultz was the primary lyricist for the track and got the inspiration from personal experience. After he questioned a coworker about the reason behind his criminal activities, Shultz’s comrade simply responded with a proverb that became the song’s title. Quickly, Shultz scrambled to write the idea down, and the rest was history.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these clever lyrics in order to decipher their true meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the all-too-human themes that make this song so memorable. Without further ado, let’s begin!

“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” Lyrics Meaning

This song wastes no time with metaphors, flowery language, or complex references. Instead, the lyrics are a blunt and matter-of-fact series of stories that eventually meet to form one central message.

The first of these stories is that of a man and a prostitute. Our singer (Shultz) is “walking down the street” when a woman promises him company for “the right price.” Instead of being offended or taking her up on the offer, Shultz simply asks the woman why she’s in the world’s oldest profession. The answer she gives is told during the chorus.

She says, “there ain’t no rest for the wicked; money don’t grow on trees.” Basically, the world is too harsh for her not to use whatever she has to make it. She’s acknowledging her own pitiable state but is also pointing to desperation as a reason for her risky, demeaning lifestyle. She “can’t hold back” because, if she does, the dog-eat-dog world will swallow her whole.

Without elaborating further, the song moves into the second story. Shultz is robbed by a man at gunpoint who tells him he “won’t think twice” before killing him should Shultz resist. Again, Shultz is neither offended nor overly complicit but simply poses a question: “What made you wanna live this kind of life?”

The robber answers with a repetition of the chorus, displaying the same self-aware desperation as the prostitute in the first verse. The harsh reality of our world drives both of these people to become hardened, desensitized, and cavalier. Since the track was reportedly inspired by Shultz’s drug-dealing coworker, the use of street criminals as illustration tools makes sense.

Verse three is slightly different since Shultz doesn’t interact with the criminal in this story. On the news, Shultz sees a case of a “preacher man” who’s stolen money from the church. Although this crime is less blue-collar than the two Shultz experienced, he realizes that the criminals are really all the same. Not only are they desperate and immoral, but all of humanity is as well.

To Shultz, humanity is “all the same” because we do what’s wrong when we feel like our hand’s been forced. In reality, this is a bit of an excuse. Shultz sees that there is a desire to “satisfy those thrills,” which lies behind all of the crimes he’s seen during this long day. With this in mind, the chorus repeats one last time – this time using “we” instead of “I.”

To sum up, “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” is about the wretched nature of people. Due to the fact that all of our selfish actions add up, we create societies that lead to an endless cycle of desperation and brutality. The sad part is that, even though we don’t admit it, nobody is an exception.

The Story Behind “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”

Just like the narratives the song tells, the story behind this track’s creation is very simple. Lead singer Matt Shultz received his inspiration from a very simple encounter and managed to shake up the music world as a result of this ordinary experience.

At the time of the song’s development, Shultz was working as a plumber for a construction company. One of his coworkers was openly a drug dealer and wished to leave that life behind. On one occasion, Shultz asked the man why he didn’t simply quit. The answer he received, “There’s no rest for the wicked,” sparked something in his mind.

After running to his car and writing the line down on a paper plate, Shultz began to take the idea further. In fact, the rest of the lyrics were written on drywall while Shultz was on the job. It seems that art always finds a way.

“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” has achieved notable success both commercially and culturally. It’s been featured in several pieces of famous media, including the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which was particularly popular with young people. The track was a top 40 hit in the UK and managed to make its way into the Billboard Top 100.

The next time you play this gritty piece of rock music, let these little bits of background information make it even more special.