By Jye Smith Sep.8.2008
In: Opinion, Other
123 comments

Say what you mean

I have a rule when listening to song lyrics: if I can predict the second line after hearing the first – it’s shit.

Harsh? Perhaps. But it just makes the artist lazy in my eyes. Why would I want to listen to something I could have written myself? Lyrics should challenge, inspire, surprise; not sound like an angry ten-year-old’s diary. Common lyrical pitfalls I cringe at include the following:

  • Rhyming – unless you’re Eminem, this isn’t really expected. Why limit your lyrical potential with assonance? Rather than writing freely, budding artists are sitting with their head in their hands, overflowing ashtray beside them, asking their flatmates what rhymes with “hungry.” (Unless you’re Avril Lavigne, and then you can just use the same word twice – “He was a skater boy, she said see you later boy.” FTW?) I’ve been caught in the most inane conversations while co-writing with people who simply can’t conceive that their song doesn’t need to follow the same syntaxic rules as the Play School theme. Let it go, douchebags!
  • Clichés – these actually piss me off even more than rhyming. Probably because they’re often used in conjunction. I’m missing you, you know it’s true… I need you girl, you rock my world… Treat me right, all night… You broke my heart, now we’re apart… I may be pretty, but my lyrics are shitty… etc… I can’t expect much more from Usher or Ashlee Simpson, but it breaks my heart (oops, cliché right there) when a great artist sullies their music by staining it with god-awful lyrics. Alanis Morissette, Motor Ace, Filter, Sheryl Crow (yeah, I dig her), Pacifier, Dashboard Confessional, Pearl Jam and Korn – you have all let me down with your shitty lyrics. Shame.
  • Bad similes – cracked.com has a whole article on this, where they expose the Top 12 Most Ridiculous Similes in Music History. My favourite is Nelly Furtado’s, “I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away/ I don’t know where my soul is, I don’t know where my home is.” As the author points out, birds are actually quite renowned for their ability to locate where they have come from – think homing pigeons. Perhaps something like, “I am like Matt Damon in the Bourne Identity”, would have been more fitting.
  • Bad metaphors – similar to the sucky simile, bad metaphors are burnt cake. Pink comes to mind, and her dubious claim that “God is a deejay”. Personal religious beliefs aside, I’m pretty sure God is yet to be seen turning tables next to a smoke machine while eight-year-olds do the nutbush. I guess “God is a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions” just doesn’t have the same ring??
  • Idiotic rhetoric – “Oh where oh where can my baby be?” – She’s dead, Eddie. There was a car accident and she died. Grieve and move on.

Enough bitching. One of the reasons I love silverchair so much (and will probably reference them in every TMB post) is that throughout their albums, you can trace the development and improvement in almost every aspect of the band’s musicality. The strongest of these is perhaps Johns’ lyrical development – over the four years between frogstomp and Neon Ballroom, he turned into a man; in theme, style, and execution. He was always a musical genius, he just needed to break free of the limitations placed upon him by decades of lyrical idiocracy. I suggest others follow suit.