Saturday, April 17, 2004

Let us discuss song lyrics. I have a paper to write before Monday, that concerns itself with hippies, and how useless they are, (seriously- they had nothing to do with the civil rights or women's liberation movement. They benefitted from the sexual revolution, and were symptomatic of the idealism of the sixties belief in progress, but they accomplished nothing.) and I'm not really feeling writing that right now. I also have to read Ralph Ellison's Shadow And Act, which is fairly dull. It's a collection of essays, kind of about race at points, but mainly, at least where I am now, it's a lot of literary criticism. Usually looking at other books from a perspective of race, but not always. It's pretty dull.

But yeah, song lyrics. I am very much a lyric guy. But many of the lyricists described as great, the folk singer-songwriter people, I don't see it at all. There is a part of me that strives to be contrarian, or at least comes by it naturally. But once that happens, I take pride in my opinions, in being able to be labeled as a philistine.

In talking about Tom Waits today, I said that I like his music, but am not a fan of the voice or the lyrics. Wasn't being facetious. Well, okay, the voice sometimes works with the overall vibe of the latter-period noisier stuff (the only kind I have interest in) but on it's own, it holds no appeal. The lyrics are of the straightforward variety. The kind that some swoon ever, that I don't get. I also just listened to Smog's Dongs Of Sevotion... That gets some praise for the lyrics, but not from me. The lyrics have their moments. Permanent Smile has a nice conceit- you earn your permanent smile when your flesh decays, and Dress Sexy At My Funeral is kind of funny. But mostly, really straight-forward.

I am a whore for the clever. The couplets work for me. The metaphors. The dark sense of humor. The lyrical. I like my lyrics lyrical, let me cite Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel as an example, in terms of meter and rhyme and such. Amazing lyrics, beautiful in every way. Modest Mouse's lyrics... well sometimes, not so much on the new album, but on Moon & Antarctica especially, work on a great level, of stoned insight and poetic imagery.

I even have a weakness for the non sequiturs and the opaque. Pavement, Beck. Decent enough.

In the realm of the straight-forward... I have a weakness for Smart Went Crazy's lyrics, the phrasing of dark negative sentiment. I like how these emotions are handled. Honey, honey, there's sugar in your gas tank. That's a good line because it's unexpected.

The first band I got into was They Might Be Giants. They usually get pegged as comedy or novelty. But so many of the songs are quite sad. What can I say... good lyrics, especially on Lincoln. Make a hole with a gun perpendicular to the name of this town in a desktop globe, exit wound in a foreign nation. That's the first line of the record. That's not even from They'll Need A Crane, which I think I've already discussed having great sad lyrics.

David Berman of the Silver Jews writes real poetry and fucking great song lyrics, and there's a clear difference between the two. I like his poetry, there's a wit to it. It has a rambling quality. His lyrics are tight, compressed, going for clever imagery that says a lot. "Now you watch the sun rise through a rifle sight" is perfect. That it's said over an interesting musical backdrop as opposed to just an acoustic guitar that changes chords a lot is nice, too.

Couplets are amazing. It seems like going out of your way to not rhyme and not have meter or whatever is just a declaration of how important you are... What I'm saying is so great, and so universal I don't have to be clever, so fuck you... And that doesn't work for me. The structure that forces either wit or easy rhymes. I like that a lot. Some of the people I've named don't rhyme constantly. It's not a requirement. I like it quite a bit. People can be witty other ways. If they try. What I'm getting at is wit is important. Cleverness is great. Because you can be clever and witty and still have genuine emotion, still say something. Say something that relates to people instead of just being self-congratulatory.

But yeah, the folk singer-songwriter that claims to speak of deep emotions, to be literary... Dude, I don't even like Ernest Hemingway. And as much as I love The Velvet Underground, I don't like Lou Reed's lyrics either, and they get the same charges, I guess for talking about Heroin in pop songs or whatever, but no, Heroin is a great song, but the lyrics aren't particularly clever or lyrical.

And people talk about Les Savy Fav having bad lyrics. But seriously: Can we declare this room to be a sovereign state, where all its citizens share skins and sins and copulate? OK it might not say anything about the human condition, but it's clever, and there's a nice little rhyme scheme to it. If the people who talk about Les Savy Fav being crap are the same people who talk about how "smart" and "literate" Morrisey is, I fully understand any anti-intellectual sentiment that pervades America. I hope a hospital orderly has sex with your girlfriend in a coma.

I like Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan a lot as a lyricist. The rhyme schemes are informed by hip-hop. There's a wit there. But he's a rock band singer, and his lines, choruses, have this kind of anthemic easily relatable quality. It gets pegged as emo on occasion, and sometimes understandably so. But there's a storytelling there. And they're great stories, and they're wrapped up in pop songs. Because, fuck man, yeah, I'm a whore for the pop songs as well. That's my thing, really. Good lyrics, and my idea of good tends to mean clever, and if they're in a context where the lyrics are incidental, because the melodies and chords, all the sounds around, are fucking great, then I'm happy. I want the songs running through my head to not be retarded, and I want the lyrics I'm reading to be attached to music that does stuff.

God this really went nowhere. I needed to talk about it though. What I'm getting at: Lyrics matter to me, but not at the expense of other stuff. And usually, when the lyrics are at the expense of other stuff, the lyrics aren't that good anyway. FUCK THAT ACTION.

And if your idea of good lyrics is over-the-top angst that really "gets to the core" of "how you feel" fuck that too.

So yet another thesis statement on what I don't want from lyrics: I CRAP ON ANGST AND POLITICS.

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