Putting in good words

Wur band’s new ep has just had its first review. It’s from the wise and venerable music blogger, Bluesbunny, and very nice it is too. And buried in there near the end is a nice little comparison about the style of our lyrics, which pleases me no-end.

I’ve been a lyric writer since my teens, which means I’ve been a lyric writer for longer than I’ve been a prose writer. It’s something I’ve always done. It doesn’t take as long or require anywhere near the amount of creative effort that a story does, it just sort of happens, almost like doodling. When an idea strikes–an image, a notion, a snatch of phrase–out comes the notebook and the pen. Later, when I have a few moments to spare, that scrap gets sketched out, its idea expanded, rhymes found. From an initial idea, I can write a lyric in under ten minutes; it seldom takes longer than an hour. They’re momentary things that need captured, not magnum opuses that should be dwelt on, stewed to death. Which isn’t to say that I don’t take lyric writing seriously, just that I use a different part of my brain for it. I love that immediacy of creating something from scratch and then calling it done.

Naturally, then, I love a good lyric in other people’s music. In fact, one of my least favourite things in the world of music is shit lyrics. And by shit I don’t necessarily mean artless or clumsy; I mean lazy, I mean parroting out some “you’re fit and I want to shag you” nonsense, or a slice of “I love you longtime” pap, or the good old “you left me, you heartless bastard” sentiment. Too many “songwriters” just think of lyrics as something for the vocalist to hang the melody off of. These people are not songwriters. I’m not saying no-one should ever write an attraction/love/break-up song again, just that they should find an original way to do it. Try writing an attraction song without using the words want or need. A break up song without the word tears. Or a love song without using the word love. Try using metaphor and allegory. Try telling a story. Try writing from the point of view of a character who is not yourself. Be gnomic and obscure, not simple.  Be sarcastic, humorous,  sly. There is room in a pop song for subtext.

The history of music is golden with great lyric writers. Of course, whether they connect with you is a subjective thing, a combination of your personality and the successful synergy of the words with the music and the artists’ performance. You’ll most likely feel differently but, speaking personally, for every Leonard Cohen and Ray Davies, who I admire, but can’t quite say I love, there’s a Bernie Taupin, a Randy Newman and a Tom Waits whose words routinely transport me.

And it’s not a lost art either. For me the best modern lyric writer–and one of the best ever–is Guy Garvey. The life sketches that guy builds out of his elliptical, and yet pinpoint personal, words are incredible. And of the newer artists, two of my current favourites are Ric Birtill of Changing Horses who gives us such darkly winking gems as:

Sometimes I leave a radio by the bathtub. In the hope that tragedy becomes good luck. I don’t think that we should carry on…

And, the more contemplative, but brilliantly evocative Louis Abbot of Admiral Fallow:

Got metal in your arteries. Cameras in your blood stream. Heartbeats from your battery’s limited reserve. This is your end, this is your end. You’re delivered.

But like I say, it’s a personal thing, and people know what they like, don’t they? Well, here’s the thing. As it happens, this Saturday is the 2012 Record Store Day. I commend you to get down to one of our superb indie record shops for exclusive releases, instore performances and whatever else goodness they have planned. In Glasgow, I know that That’s Entertainment are putting on a bit of a show and there will also be some excellent instores at both Monorail and Love Music (the latter featuring the above-mentioned Admiral Fallow).

But most importantly, whatever you think you like, get yourself in among the racks, pull out some disks, scan the song titles and take a chance on something a bit different. You might just stumble across the best song you’ve ever heard. With words that speak to your heart, and your heart alone.

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