Sunday, November 11, 2007

Music and Lyrics (Thankfully not the movie)/Sam Mitchell Announces His (First) Gameplan!

My friend Rosie pointed me to this article in Saturday's Globe and Mail. Robert Everett-Green is apparently not a fan of the Weakerthans, because he finds them musically repetitive. His implication, I think, is that they have built a following on John Sampson's lyrics. Regardless of whether or not Everett-Green's implication holds with the Weakerthans, the larger debate is interesting: whether its possible to write a good song with simple, derivative lyrics (Everett-Green); or, whether good music requires interesting/clever/insightful lyrics where melody is not particularly important (his buddy).

I'm not exactly sure where I come down on this debate. My initial inclination is to say that good music that lasts, i.e. the albums that I keep coming back to: The Arcade Fire Funeral, Sufjan Stevens Illinois, Hayden Everything I Long For and Skyscraper, TV on the Radio Return to Cookie Mountain, even Nirvana Unplugged in New York and Nas Illmatic all get better every listen. Good music, in my opinion, draws you in with sound and keeps you coming back with its lyrics.

This is an interesting discussion that I had with Rosie, which would be interesting to get some feed back on.

Meanwhile, in a surprise move Sam Mitchell has made a strategic decision! Hooray! He announced that rather than trying to play everyone an exactly equal number of minutes with Bargnani starting, he is going to do the same thing with Bargnani coming off the bench. (He didn't actually announce that he's going to continue to distribute minutes like he has)

Some one really ought to suggest to Sam Mitchell that typically you want to play your best players more, and weaker players less. At this point in the season the Raps second and third best players (Bargnani and TJ Ford) have played over 31 minutes a combined 3 times (of 7 games - so 14 opportunities).

I'm sure the Raps will be fine... they're going to play the 76ers and the Bulls 20 times this year, right?


Jesse said...

I think the more interesting question for music critics, which I MEANT to get to when we talked, is whether this is really something that could be solved through collaboration. The lyricist for the Weakerthans, who has managed to throw down some fantabulous lyrics and some decent songs, really just needs to find a way to suck someone into his band who he can work with on music to get over the top.

I base this off another personal conversation with this blogger about younger musicians and how they should build a career, as he suggested they need to expand their musical interests and find people to work with.

Brian said...

Personally, lyrics have never been the reason I enjoy a song. For me it all comes down to the overall sound (melody, instrumentation, arrangement, vocals, etc). Lyrics definitely play a supporting role, and in some cases can make up for pieces that are missing (see the vocals of Bob Dylan), but overall they don't make a song memorable. Music at its core is about the sound. I agree with Everett-Green when he says:

"But when I encounter a song that has interesting lyrics but bores me musically, all I can do is admire the writer's verbal skills and regret his or her failure to write a good song."

If the songwriter's are only focusing on the lyrics, they aren't much more than glorified poets with a mainstream (or indie)audience.

Jesse said...

I don't think we can take it so far as to say that someone standing up there and just talking is doing music, or that it's OK if the music is terrible. I think it's pretty clear that Dylan had some musical mojo going, even if you didn't like it, based on how often he gets covered.

However, doesn't there have to be a point or extent to which lyrics make up for musical deficiencies? I'd say the music of Sigur Ros is more interesting than whatever you thought of, but I still don't listen to them all the time, nor did I see a lot of classical, or French/Russian/Tagalog pop last time I checked out your collection.

I also don't think the Weakerthans are focusing only on the lyrics, but that maybe they've got a brilliant lyricist, excellent stage presence, but not super creative music behind them.

I also wonder whether musical creativity would matter that much if they were in the mainstream, instead of being trapped in an indie pool where everyone bases their opinions on pitchfork...

Brian said...

Just to clarify: I'm not bringing into question Dylan's talent by any means, but rather that he had to rely on the strength of his lyrics to overcome the initial apprehension behind his scratchy vocals.

The R.O.B. said...

Jesse - re: your earliest comment - I'm not sure whether weak melodies are something that are necessarily to be 'solved', because often I think bland music kind of highlights what great lyricists have to say.

It seems to me that often artists like Dylan - and lyrical contemporaries (if that's possible) Matt Berninger (the National), Hayden - maybe Ben Folds and Art Brut in a different fun sort of less profound way - tend to play music that highlight their lyrics.

In contrast, melody, production, and a memorable chorus seem to dominate mtv, popular radio, etc most often sacrificing lyrical content to satisfice their target demo... if they are even writing their own songs.

Jesse said...

Brain raises an interesting point on vocals. I think in my head I had them sort of neither fish nor fowl w/r/t whether they were part of the lyrical quality or musical quality. I certainly would defend the Weakerthans guy as having a fantastic, interesting voice; does that (mostly?) help him sell his lyrics, or the band's sound?

I think you've got to have some pretty spectacular lyrics to sell them with a "bland" melody. Are you suggesting that for more poetic lyricists like Dylan, Neil Peart, and John Samson they should avoid having too much going on because it will distract?