If you’ve read any post on this blog, you can tell I tend to focus on lyrics (I am a writer, after all), and that I have irritatingly high (often double-)standards. So this post is all about enunciating, as best as I can, my criteria for extraordinary lyrics. There’s a school of songwriting, non-songwriting, Faberge egg-making, and even speaking that says that if you spit out enough words, some of them are bound to be the right ones. It doesn’t matter that someone had to detangle four paragraphs worth of nonsense to find the right ones, the important part is that they’re in there somewhere. At least for me, the luster of the best words are almost always negated by the mounds of shit they’re slathered to. But because i’m a snob, i’m going to say that the opposite is just as bad; songs with borderline ascetic lines, nothing to grasp onto or enjoy, just something to listen to. “so what, exactly, do you like in lyrics?” ask all you budding lyricists, hoping to curry favor with one of the most obscure mp3blogs this side of English. Well, here you go.
Neither of these acts are my favorite songwriters, and the songs i’m posting are not my favorite songs (I’m not entirely sure what my favorites ARE, but I know these would not be them.). Lyrically though, that doesn’t matter; they thread together poetry and mundanity, candor and insight. They are lyrics that i find new nooks in each time i listen.
“The Only Answer” is the first track on Mike Doughty’s first solo album, Skittish. The album is empty, fiercely quiet and adamantly addicted. It is Doughty and a guitar drunk driving in LA, doing drugs in an apartment stairwell, feeling lonely on the train, and pinning after, it seem, one particular woman, the only constant in this erratic inkblot, the plot that holds the whole thing together beautifully. This is an album that is actually a letter to that girl, never named, but meticulously created. And “The Only Answer” is chapter one, where it all goes wrong. It works brilliantly as a song because it combines a beautiful, meticulously detailed narrative (the second verse is a short story. An complete, fascinating short story) with a chorus that carries across the sentiment of the verses without pounding them into the dirt. I could retype the entire chorus, because every word fits like the gears of small watch, but its last line will dig deep into your ears: “five years in the wrong; I am assured my name to you is just another word.”
The chorus of “Jinx Removing” is: “I love you move than I ever loved anyone before or anyone to come.” Those lines might not seem so amazing or moving onto themselves. They might seem pretty plain, in fact, but the struggle before those words are sung makes their simplicity and gravity feel well earned. Blake Schwarzenbach, the band’s lyricist and singer writes the relationship apart, with couplets like “we’re too smart to watch tv/we’re too dumb to make believe,” stacks against stoics like “all the errands in the world won’t save us now.” The first time Schwarzenbach sings the chorus, it seems past tense; right before it, he admits he’s “too old not to get excited about rain and road, egpytians ruins, our first kiss.” it’s both his imagination and his brimming nostalgia that lead into the chours the first time. But he has remembered now, and so the rest of the lyrics are luckbringing cliches (“Rabbit Rabbit on the first”) and then, right before that chorus again the line, “I will make you mine.” the second time, the chorus feels like the match head that John Hughes turned over and over in his pocket.
I don’t know, maybe the Jawbreaker example won’t do as much for you. Really, I shouldn’t need an excuse or pretense to post a Jawbreaker song.