My review of tUnE-yArDs has gotten quite a few responses (well, in BDWPS terms, 3 responses is a reader outpouring) and most comments have said something like “I’m not a lyric person.” This infers that I am a “lyric person”, whatever that is. At first I accepted this label; I do, in fact, love great lyrics, whether they enlighten me, affect my emotions, or connect to my life and my experiences.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel that I shouldn’t be branded as simply a “lyric man.” My enjoyment of many of the albums that have come out this year has nothing to do with lyrics. Many have no lyrics at all (Geotic, Colin Stetson, Earth) while others are in languages I don’t even understand: Davila 666 (Puerto Rico), Aurelio (Honduras), Ponytail (Rivendell). And even the albums with English lyrics that I’ve been listening to are not filled with poetic language. Snowman’s best song “Hyena” on their album “Absence” (which I recently rated a 9 out of 10) consists primarily of the word “Hyena” being repeated over and over and over again. Why would I expect a musician to also be a great writer? No one ever expected Robert Frost to be able to write great music to coincide with his poetry (although I heard he was into black metal).
So, no. I’m not a lyric man. In reality, I side more with the masses who responded to my tUnE-yArDs review (yes, all three of them). Brain research would suggest that a lyric “man” doesn’t even exist. I believe that females are more likely to fit in the legion of “lyric people.” The female brain is generally more empathetic and superior to men when it comes to language-based thoughts due to their larger frontal lobe. The male brain, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with strength in breaking things down and analyzing them. In a nutshell, women listen to the lyrics while the man is breaking down the music (obviously this a generalized, semi-sexist, uneducated hypothesis, but it is my view nonetheless). This supposed “lyric man” I keep hearing about is about as realistic as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
This brings me back to tUnE-yArDs “W H O K I L L”. For a guy who can joyfully listen to an hour of Ponytail’s Molly Siegal shout “Wha? Dobeeeda? Jabajojo!” for 40 minutes, it takes a lot for lyrics to annoy me. But Merrill Garbus accomplished it. The fact that the music on her album is refreshing, energetic, and fun only magnifies how bad the lyrics have to be to make the album so irritating. Her lyrics are like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”, totally taking the viewer out of what is an otherwise great movie. I’m not saying my lyrics have to be like Christian Bale in “The Fighter”. Marky Mark Wahlberg will suffice: sure, he’s getting out-acted by everyone else in the cast, but he’s able to tread generally unnoticed and not totally distract the viewer from the film.
Then again, when lyrics are truly great, they can take an album to a higher level. Looking at my top 10 albums list of 2011, I can pinpoint five albums that are profoundly impacted by their lyrics. Titus Adronicus’s “Monitor” is a lesson in allusion, constantly jumping from references to the Civil War, Bruce Springsteen, and Patrick Stickle’s own personal struggles, all woven together into a brilliant patchwork. Arcade Fire’s “Suburbs” is packed with lyrics that all fit within an overall theme of alienation and lost innocence. And No Age’s “Everything in Between” lyrics aesthetically match the world within the music, with the noise being a character in the narrative, representing that one thing that makes us all ache.
I take it all back. I am a lyric man. Please welcome me into the fold Mr. Loch Ness.