The Greatest Conversation

Lyrics are Embarrassing as Hell, Sometimes

Posted in New Music, Old Music by Brian Park on September 27, 2009


Popular art is becoming more blatant. Rather than subtly directing the viewers/listeners/readers through the film/song/book/whatever, artists are choosing to smash them over the head with obvious symbolism, metaphor, et cetera. I don’t care whether we should blame the artists or the people who need things to be obvious for them to make an impact at all; fact is, it’s a shame.

Specifically when it comes to modern popular music, lyrics play too great a role, but they aren’t thought about enough. What I mean is that they’re often designed to elicit an emotional response that the listener can relate to and latch onto, but they aren’t really thought about. For example, listen to most any Animal Collective song and you’ll have no idea what the fuck they are actually singing about, but the lyrics will be carefully crafted so that dramatic, self important teenagers will be able to relate the song to their own lives. And, this tendency for vagueness is everywhere in modern music. Seriously, what the fuck:

Now it’s day and I’ve been trying to get that taste off my tongue
I was dreaming of just you, now our cereal, it is warm
Attractive day in the rubble of the night from before
Now I can’t walk in a vacuum, I feel ugly, feel my pores

In a way, it smacks of obscurantism, but not because they’re shielding an unready public from some dangerous truth; rather, it obscures the lack of truth behind their lyrics, and simultaneously makes their lyrics accessible to a broader range of people. If you don’t commit to saying any one thing, nobody can disagree with you.

On the other hand, sometimes lyrics don’t matter.

Can – Sing Swan Song

I love this song, off of Can’s brilliant Ege Bamyasi album. It is beautiful and melodic, and though it’s in English, I have no idea what the hell he’s singing. I’m purposely avoiding looking up the lyrics because, frankly, I don’t care: it sounds perfect. Of course, Kanye West had to take that song and destroy it. Using Sing Swan Song as its chorus, here’s Kanye’s Drunk & Hot Girls. This is how embarrassingly bad lyrics murder a good melody.

Lyle Lovett – The Fat Girl

Kanye leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so I want to end this post with a song I think is an amazing use of good lyrics. Lyle Lovett has something interesting to say, and he says it in an unconventional and poetically engaging way. On top of that, the rest of the instrumentation sits in perfect relief to the lyrics; the tune begs to lock into a beat, but Lyle wants you to listen to what he’s saying, rather than have the beat wash over you, so he only hints at finally locking in, right before the song ends. Fucking brilliant.

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