May. 30th, 2009 10:18 pm
turbot: Perfect Tree, Armidale (Default)
This evening I heard a great interview on Radio National's Music Show with Brian Eno. Once the interview turned to his pop production, thankfully focusing more on producing style than on the personalities and cerlebrities, Andrew Ford asked Eno about his preference for quickly written lyrics. Eno said most musicians write vocal melodies with gibberish words, and add some chords. In this way the musician has written something which had musically intersted them. But then they need to write lyrics, and try to be serious and cumbersome, often clumsy. Eno, on the otherhand, prefers less thought out lyrics, for many listeners would be more likely to listen to the sound of the lyrics than the words. Eno contends lyrics, though not an insignificant part of the work, are normally worried over by music critics who have a problem writing about music.

This last comment struck me significantly, for as a music critic I write the other way around. I have a problem writing about lyrics, and indeed listening to lyrics. Having come from an background appreciating instrumental music, I find myself more interested in the texture, rhythm, hooks and momentum of a track. If the lyrics are good too, well that's a bonus, but considering most lyrics are generic and overdone, I often just focus more on the melodic sound of the vocals rather than what they are saying. If the lyrics are cumbersome and clumsy, then these then impact negatively on that melodic sound. Of course, really good lyricists like Tom Waits and Andy Partridge can find really great words to match the musicianship of their voices, but for a lot of bands out there, the voice as instrument holds more interest for me than the lyrics.

Off the top of my head look at PJ Harvey. I'm not knocking her as a lyricist, but her voice is the driver of her songs, ranging from deep to high pitched, rich and light, she gives her songs the body - the punch - over the driving rhythms. Not that the voice has to be a great voices. Two of my favourite singers are Robert Wyatt and Mark Knopfler who sign with their natural, arguably limited voices, but always pick words which allows their voices to be musical.

(On a side note, I hate all these modern pop "singers" chosen for looks but with no or limited vocal talent, where the use of intrusive vocal correction technology wrecks the song's emotion and rhythm. In the old day they might have also gotten pretty people to sing pop - but they could damn well sing...)


turbot: Perfect Tree, Armidale (Default)

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