Sunday, November 20, 2005

what a let down.

musing on the lyrical stylings of R Williams Esq for the last post got me thinking about bad lyrics. A common complaint of my mother's is, "These modern bands! The words just don't mean anything!" Which I think is a bit rich from a woman who:

a) mis-heard Abba's Summer Night City as Have A Nice Day for seventeen years, until the release of Abba Gold (she also believe that minge was a verb, a synonym for whinge, until my sister and i, choking with laughter, corrected her).
b) champions the Beatles, peddlers of such toss as "It's been a hard day's night/And I've been working like a dog/It's been a hard day's night/I should be sleeping like a log".

But she does have a point. I read recently that Scandinavian songwriters are much in demand in the modern pop industry because they write the kind of rhyme music producers love, and native English speakers would be too embarrassed to inflict on the public: together/forever, love/above, boy/toy and so on.

The trouble with bad lyrics is that they pop up even in great songs, totally ruining them with their tooth-sucking badness. I can't listen to the otherwise excellent Flip Flop Rock by Outkast any more, after many evenings laughing with Artegall over Jay-Z's pisspoor contribution... "YO! CASH! BITCH! HOLLER!" Admittedly, trying to rap after Big Boi, an MC so talented he transcends the beat, is never going to make you look good (rather like the poor kids in the Harry Potter films being acted off the screen by the cream of British acting talent in cameo roles) but really... "Niggers want to hijack the flyness"? Pull yourself together, man.

It's not just lyrics, either. My enjoyment of the Killers' fantastic Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll has been shot to pieces by some monkey's decision to insert a jangly flourish of a tambourine directly after the lyrics, "She plays the drums/I'm on tambourine" - like we'd otherwise be completely in the dark about what a bloody tambourine sounds like. While we're on the Killer, what's up with "save some face/you know you've only got one" as a statement of the bleeding obvious? If she had two faces, that might be a nice twist, in keeping with the general bitterness of the song.


So, as a management consultant might say, I've outlined the problem. What's the solution? Well, there are a few simple steps which might help. Forcing Jay-Z's immediate retirement would be start, as would sitting down all the Scandinavian songwriters and explaining patiently that some rhyming combinations are now beyond parody, and should be banned. Then confiscate their rhyming dictionaries.

The next step would be to make all aspiring songwriters listen to the work of the great lyricists of the day: Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Morrissey, REM, Outkast (and before you start, yes, all of the above have off days, but cut them some slack - you'll never write anything with the beautiful purity of "I long to see you in the early light/I long to reach for you in the night"). You wouldn't write a novel with reading a few of the classics, surely, so why think you can write good lyrics on a diet of Sugababes and Westlife?


after further pondering, i have decided who the worst lyricist in pop is. Step forward and take a bow, Noel Gallagher.

Dear Noel wins because, frankly, he should know better. He's not a 12-year-old, or a foreigner. In interviews, he's lucid, amusing and charmingly self-deprecating. Why then, does he consistently produce absolute twaddle, and think that sprinkling it with a few literary or cultural references makes it OK? He's the Tom Stoppard of the music world - all glitz and no substance.

Again, Noel wins on points over more obvious choices like 2Unlimited because he's so nearly there. You can tell in songs like Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova and Stand by Me that there's a kernel of something beautiful and meaningful. Unfortunately, it's lost beneath a morass of trite and simperingly over-neat rhyming like "And all the roads we have to walk are winding/ And all the lights that lead us there are blinding" or "Slowly walking down the hall/ Faster than a cannon ball".

P.S. After consultation, the jury's still out on Chris Martin's lyrical ability. Complete twat or touching wordsmith? You'll have to decide for yourself.


Blogger Paul B said...

I'm not sure about Morrissey, especially his more recent stuff. For example:

'Irish blood, English heart/This I'm made of/There is no-one on earth/I'm afraid of..."

Except perhaps the voice nagging at the back of his brain that perhaps Johnny Marr was actually the talented one.

11/21/2005 11:26 am  
Blogger Bourgeois Wife said...

'I'm as serious as cancer, when I say rhythm is a dancer.'

Ah, they don't make 'em like that any more.

11/21/2005 11:30 am  
Blogger leflange said...

"I've seen love go by my door,
It's never been this close before:
Never been so easy or so slow.
Been shooting in the dark too long,
When somethin's not right it's wrong.
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.

Dragon clouds so high above,
I've only known callous love:
It always has hit me from below.
But this time around it's more correct,
Right on target, so direct,
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go."

Now I'm not sure about the dragon clouds, and I'm not sure about something not right being wrong, but Jesus titty-fucking Christ that is about as great as it gets, when you're in love.

11/21/2005 3:26 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

i don't hold with "shooting in the dark", young man, i'd like to make that clear.

and i genuinely think that snap lyric is deeply ironic, and therefore the greatest thing ever to happen in music. if only the same could be said of that other great mid-90s hit, "saturday night".

"saturday night and the hour is stretching high/like you baby"

er... what? bloody scandinavians.

11/21/2005 3:50 pm  
Anonymous Laura said...

If the question is Chris Martin then the answer is Twat. It doesn't matter what the question is.

And you know I don't use that word lightly Ms.Galatea

11/21/2005 7:29 pm  
Blogger Artegall said...

There are worse things than Chris Martin, but fortunately they can be lanced, drained and surgically dressed. As for Jay Z, I think you're mistaken - the man is a genius:

Check it, let's go
Young Hov, y'all know when the flow is loco
Young B and the R-O-C, uh oh (Oh)
O.G. big homie, the one and only (Oh no)
Stick bony, but the pockets is fat like Tony Soprano (oh no)
The ROC handle like Van Exel
I shake phonies man you can't get next to
The genuine article I do not sing though
I sling though, If anything I bling yo
A star like Ringo, roll like a green Corvette
Crazy, bring ya whole set
Jay-Z in the range, crazy and deranged
They can't figure him out, they like hey is he insane (Oh no)
Yes sir I'm cut from a different cloth
My texture is the best fur, Chinchilla. [Bridge begins repeating in
I been dealing with chain smokers
How you think I got the name Hova
I been realer the game's over
Fall back Young, ever since the label changed over
To platinum the game's been a wrap, one

11/21/2005 11:32 pm  
Blogger galatea said...


"A star like Ringo"? he should be taken outside and shot.

and why is he called Hov? Can it be a reference to his love of freshly-baked bread?

11/22/2005 10:14 am  
Blogger hangthedj said...

You have all failed to mention the genius of the Pete Doherty/Carl Barat songwriting partnership.
Many of you will just think Pete is a loser junkie and you are right, but some of their lyrics are sublime.
If you take the hit, 'Cant stand me now' for example, it just explains the relationship between the pair perfectly.
Taking turns to sing they say:
Carl--An ending fitting for the start
You twisted and tore our love apart
Your light fingers through the dark
Shattered the lamp into darkness, they cast us all
Pete--No, you've got it the wrong way round
You shut me up, and blamed it on the brown
Cornered the boy, kicked out at the world
The world kicked back a lot fucking harder now

If you wanna try
If you wanna try
There's no worse you could do
Uh oh oh

I know you lie
I know you lie
But I'm still in love with you
Uh oh oh

You can't take me anywhere, I take you anywhere
You can't take me anywhere, I can take you anywhere
I'll take you anywhere you wanna go

No, you can't stand me now, no you can't stand me now


Also their song "I no longer hear the music" just sums up how somebody feels when they no longer love the person they are with:

"Well is it cruel or kind
Not to speak my mind
And to lie to you
Rather than hurt you
Well, I'll confess all of my sins
After several large gins
But still I'll hide from you
And hide what's inside from you

And alarm bells ring
When you say your heart still sings
When you're with me
Oh darling, please forgive me

But I no longer hear the music
Oh no no no no no

And all the memories of the pubs
And the clubs and the drugs and the tubs
We shared together
Will stay with me forever

But all the highs and the lows
And the tos and the fros
They left me dizzy
Oh darling, please forgive me

But I no longer hear the music
Oh no no no no no

Well I no longer hear the music when the lights go out
Love goes cold in the shades of doubt
The strange face in my mind is all too clear
Music when the lights come on
The girl I thought I knew has gone
And with her my heart it disappeared

Well I no longer hear the music
Oh no no no no no

And all the memories of the fights and nights
Under blue lights and all the kites
We flew together
Love thought they'll fly forever

But all the highs and the lows
And the tos and the fros
They left me dizzy
Oh won't you please forgive me

But I no longer hear the music
Oh no no no no no"
Apoligies for printing all of the song, but it is so amazing.
Pete has carried his talent onto Babyshambles. In "Gang of gin" he spills the beans on his last hours in the Libertines:
"I'll tell you my story
The treachery it bores me
Carl and McGee both promised me
It would not happen this way
Carl is kept sedated
The frontman elevated
And McGee doing all he can to ruin my band
And keep me out the way
The truth here gets distorted
The wall scrapings get snorted
I'm welcome back if I give up crack
But you gave me my first pipe anyway."

11/26/2005 12:20 pm  
Blogger hangthedj said...

Just in case you hadn't heard enough from my Northern Gobshite arse I feel I have to add something about Prince. One word "God" See my blog for why I think this.
Also, on the subject of bad lyrics feel I have to mention the Darkness' recent hit, "One way ticket to hell and back". Don't know about anyone else but the last time I bought a one way ticket, it didn't bring me, hence it being called 'one way ticket'.

11/26/2005 12:26 pm  

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