When people ask me what is most important, lyrics or music, whilst I understand both sides of the debate, I have no hesitation but to say lyrics. For me good lyrics are poetry, a contemporary literary form set to music. And whereas anyone listening to music hears pretty much the same thing, different life experiences can mean that we all get something different out of the lyrics, intentionally or otherwise. That’s why, for example, most people don’t get the love/hate dichotomy in Springsteen’s blue-collar anthems or why the BNP didn’t see the irony of using a song by the left leaning Manic Street Preachers for a recruitment campaign.
That’s also why I find the AK-Poets latest album, The Ghost of Corelli, so rewarding from a literary point of view. There are obvious, direct metaphors especially with the boxing imagery of Cassius Clay used to put the central character on the pedestal through his girlfriends eyes, but there are also less tangible images being painted. The philosophical and insightful reflections of In an Empty Room to the layered meanings of Sweet Dreams – running the gamut of the innocence of putting a child to bed to the heartache of losing a loved one.
It is this ability for songs, in the right hands, to be all things to all people that are the reason that music videos are often disappointing. Their rigid limitation to present only one view of all the myriad possibilities is on par with your favourite literary creation being put on screen and feeling like a deliberate character assassination.
But it is not all introspection and simile, the track that bucks the trend is swansong Eleven Thousand Martyred Virgins, which juxtaposes cliché and poeticism, deliberately mixes metaphor and literary references and which remains obtuse if not obscure throughout yet does so with a pallet of primary colours.
Great music is great music but great lyrics are literature.