Rhythm And Melody

Posted Thursday, August 20, 2009, 3:55 PM

I don't often pay much attention to song lyrics. If they're even intelligible. I assume they are a competently written poetry, telling some lame story or expressing some simple emotion, that matches the feel of the music.

Every so often, though, someone comes along who writes amazing lyrics that really stand out. The first person I remember recognising their skill at this was, perhaps surprisingly, George Michael. For some reason, I could sing many of his solo and Wham songs and through doing so recognise his talent as a lyricist.

However, the opposite can also happen - seriously bad lyrics to what is an otherwise decent song. And the first time I encountered that and it really got me upset was listening to Mike and the Mechanics, with their song "The Living Years" (and then retroactively seeing that their previous hit, "Silent Running", was equally awful).

It's about a man who has had a difficult time with his Father, then after he dies realises too late he has missed out, and regrets their actions.

That's fine, except the lyrics are sophomoric nonsense, trying so desperately hard to sound deep and significant, but only managing to sound like he broke open the thesaurus whenever he got stuck, which appears to be on every third line.


"You can listen as well as you hear"

Repetition via a thesaurus, but it doesn't actually mean what he wanted it to.

"I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears"

Repetition via a thesaurus (prisoner = hostage) just to fill in a second line. Also falls back on the tried and true cliché that is inescapable everywhere you turn: "hopes and fears".

"And if you don't give up, and don't give in"

More blatant repetition via a thesaurus.

"I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears"

Even more repetition via a thesaurus. And then he says "baby's newborn tears" when it ought to be "newborn baby's tears," though in any case the image he's painting of hearing his Father's voice in his baby's crying is patently absurd.

"You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence"

I assume he's trying to express how they don't understand each other, but it's no wonder if he talks bollocks like this at him.

Anyway, I hate this song.

Here's another one with crappy repetitious lyrics, who ran out of ideas after about the third line. "Lemon Tree" by Fool's Garden. But they're Germans, so maybe that's an excuse.

But here's a local Australian band that have put out two hit songs, both with lyrics I particularly dislike. The songs themselves have great melodies, are excellently sung, beautifully played and mixed, but have apparently been written by an angsty teenager with a severely limited vocabulary and imagination.

The band is Eskimo Joe, and the songs are "Black Fingernails, Red Wine" and "Foreign Land"

Here's how the first begins:

"Black fingernails, red wine
I wanna make you, all mine
A lot of people, underground
You wanna get there
You gotta go straight down"

I mean, what the hell is that? Any song that uses "I wanna make you all mine" (using "all" just to make the line scan) or "A lot of people underground" is just not trying.

It goes on:

"The argument over God continues
In this house
All of us stand and point our fingers
At the ground
All of us stand and point our fingers"

Apart from the misheard lyrics that sound like "I can't understand the point of fingers," the real lyrics are just nonsense; Trying to mean something, but failing to actually say a thing. It's teenage poetry of the worst kind.

And their latest release, "Foreign Land," I think is about Australian soldiers going to war. But it's horrendously written.

First stanza:

"Steady my shaky hands
Shut off the world's demands
to get the facts down
Do you understand?"

That's just him describing writing the song. It has nothing to do with the song's main point.

"That this is a foreign land
So try to understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that"

An absurd amount of repetition to fill in a lot of time. And it says virtually nothing.

"Take a little look around
nothing else hits the ground
Touch my hand
up to the air"

Also says nothing; also has extra fallback words added just to make it scan.

"Dying in the foreign land
So do you understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

Even when you're all alone
When it's not your home
I smell the blood of an Australian
Try to understand this if you can
if you can
if you can"

More repetition, more meaningless blather - but with the addition of "Dying in the foreign land" and "blood of an Australian" suddenly it pretends to have some kind of deep heartfelt significance.

Except those are the two sole lines in the entire song that has any connection with anything, other than empty filler to make up the required five minutes.

The songs are sung wonderfully, and the music is catchy as all hell.

But the lyrics suck.

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