I’m not really much of a lyrics person. It doesn’t really matter what Sonic Youth or Fugazi are singing to me as long as it sounds good with the guitars. Other Tori Amos fans gape at me in disbelief when I confess that I don’t really bother reading her lyrics. Apparently they’re deeply meaningful. I’m generally indifferent to the sort of music review where the reviewer quotes extensively from lyrics and concludes that the album is about redemption or tortured love or dark nights of the soul or whatever. I tend to home in on descriptions of how it all sounds and ignore analysis of meaning and themes.
I’ve always felt a bit guilty about this – sort of shallow and non-indie. Most people I’ve mentioned this indifference to lyrics to have certainly reacted with surprise and a little bemusement, and I suppose I’d get raised eyebrows from the A-list music bloggers as well if any of them read this blog (ha, I think not). I can’t really figure out why this is either – I love words intensely in every other context, but the pleasure I derive from most of the music I listen to is overwhelmingly sensory rather than emotional or intellectual.
This doesn’t mean that music lyrics are completely meaningless to me; they do affect my appreciation of music but in a limited and asymmetric way. If I already find a song musically appealing, lyrics I like make me like it more, but bad lyrics have negligible effect.
Which is why it’s unusual that I love Silver Jews’ American Water. There are lines throughout it that jump out at me and elevate what would otherwise feel like exceedingly pleasant but humdrum alt-country to an album of moods and stories and places. Random Rules has In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection; I know that a lot of what I have to say has been lifted off of men’s room walls; and But before I go I gotta ask you dear about that tan line on your ring finger, which are all quite amusing, but something in the ending gives it a similar sort of poignance as Papa Was A Rodeo (Magnetic Fields) except perhaps not as sharp. Wild Kindness closes the album saying I’m going to shine out in the wild silence and spurn the sin of giving in, later I’m going to shine out in the wild kindness and hold the world to its word, and I don’t even really know what this means, but it feels good to hear him sing that.
This happens elsewhere too. I’ve written about Papa Was A Rodeo before. Lyrics are more important to me in rap, and are the absolute essence of why I love 8pt Agenda (Herbaliser featuring Latyrx) madly, and rather enjoy Eminem. Lyrics (and okay, I admit, my secret hopeless romanticism. Stop laughing.) are big reasons why Somebody (Depeche Mode), Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill) and Annie’s Song (John Denver) render me weak-kneed, sappy-smiled and mushy-hearted. My enjoyment of Hefner’s The Fidelity Wars is equal parts funny lyrics and appealing melodies.
But most of the time lyrics don’t mean that much to me, which is why I went hmmmm while listening to American Water last night. Funny how these rambles of mine get triggered.