It seems there was a special significance to this song, considering that “Listen Like Thieves” was the album title. In an interview taped during the last year of his life in 1997, Michael was asked what his favorite INXS albums had been, and he quickly answered “Listen Like Thieves” as one of them, (along with “Kick” and “Welcome to Wherever You Are”). Clearly he was proud of this song and considered it one of his artistic accomplishments.
The lyrical messages resonate strongly with points Michael made over and over in interviews: critical of the media and of those who accept the “answers” they are told.
“ON THE TALK BACK SHOW/ ON THE RADIO/ AT THE LOCAL BAR/ IN THE HOT TRAFFIC BY THE RED TAIL LIGHTS
EVERYBODY’S DOWN ON THEIR KNEES/ LISTEN LIKE THIEVES/ BUT WHO NEEDS THAT/ WHEN IT’S ALL IN YOUR HANDS
AND WE TAKE IT DOWN/ TO THE END OF TOWN/ WHERE THEY HAVE CONTROL/ BUT THEY’RE LOSING TOUCH WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT
EVERYBODY’S DOWN ON THEIR KNEES/ LISTEN LIKE THIEVES FOR THE ANSWERS/ BUT WHO NEEDS THAT/ WHEN YOU GOT IT ALL IN YOUR HANDS/ IT’S ALL YOUR HANDS/ IT’S ALL YOUR HANDS, HANDS
YOU ARE ALL YOU NEED/ YOU ARE ALL YOU NEED/ THAT’S EVERYTHING/ SO HESITATE*/ THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE/ JUST, JUST DO IT FOR YOURSELF”
“On the talk back show, on the radio” would have been one of the predominant “social media” platforms at the time these lyrics were written. It was similar to today’s internet in that it was a place where ordinary people could have their opinions heard by friends and strangers alike, a place where ideas were appropriated. “At the local bar, in the hot traffic by the red tail lights” indicates people out and about conducting personal interactions, generating physical heat and hot colors.
“Everybody’s down on their knees” suggests that beneath the surface, all of the people are in a gesture of submission or metaphorically praying in desperation. And the line “listen like thieves” also suggests that people are listening through a wall (or the floor), eavesdropping “for the answers.” Perhaps the guilty connotation of the word “thieves” implies that people don’t feel confident in thinking for themselves, so they listen to others “like thieves” and regurgitate the answers they hear as their own.
The idea of “taking it down to the end of town where they have control” could indicate political activism, a group of people “taking it down” and confronting those who “have control.”. Or, “and we take it down to the end of town” could simply be a narrated scene change to the rich side of town, where people are likewise unable to see the answers. The suggestion that “they’re losing touch when the lights go out” may refer to those in power who, in their selfish and therefore isolated pursuits, have become out of touch with the needs of everyday people. “When the lights go out” suggests nighttime, hinting at hidden sexual practices and spiritual darkness, a place where they “lose touch” with “having control.” Furthermore “when the lights go out” may also point to the idea of deliberately keeping truth obscured.
The idea that it’s “all in your hands” implies that through careful self-reflection, if we stop lying to ourselves, like “thieves¨ we can allow universal truths to sink in and resonate with us. It would behoove us to look beyond the regurgitated story lines and foregone conclusions, lest we “listen like thieves” and allow official narratives to fill our brains.
¨You are all you need. That’s everything¨ again promotes the notion that the answers (presumably for how to fix ourselves, and thus the world) exist within our own minds, not elsewhere (like the media).
Here we note a discrepancy. At this point in the song the album liner notes say, “SO DON’T HESITATE” but when singing, Michael makes no hint of the word “don’t.” He clearly sings it, “SO HESITATE,” which not only makes the delivery of the word “HESITATE” hesitate slightly, but also changes the meaning, evoking the moment of uncertainty before making this fundamental shift in perspective, from dependence on external sources to the internal self.
¨There’s no time to waste¨ expresses a distinct urgency, and the assertion that the present moment is what matters. It also implies a rapidly approaching point of no return.
In essence, this song is a call for people to stop participating in conformist “groupthink,” which is often what happens when one fails to consider that corporate media and tabloids are nothing more than propaganda.