A couple weeks ago I got a text from my friend (and, um, boss I guess) Erik Ritland. He was listening to a new album and, since we sometimes share a similar taste in music, he asked my opinion. “I think I like it, especially the first track,” he said, “but I’m not sure if the lyrics are so bad that they ruin the song. And the album.”
It turns out, as is sometimes the case, that Erik’s instincts were correct.
The lyrics on Near to the Wild Heart of Life everything bad with indie songwriters today. I wonder where they got the idea that they need to try and be philosophers, or some kind of edgy social commentator. Sorry, Brian King (Japandroid’s lyricist –ed), you’re not Bob Dylan, and someone also needs to get that message out to Ought’s Tim Darcy, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, and each member of Ages to Ages.
Some of King’s worst offenders:
It was last call at my local
And I stalled saying goodbye
So the girl behind the bar came over
And she took me aside
She kissed me like a chorus, said
“Give 'em hell for us
The last drink of the night, last night in town
Baby, this one is on the house”
from “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”
“Last call at my local”? Local what? Post office? Fire department? I have never once in my life heard someone refer to a bar as a “local,” but then again I guess I’m not very hip. Perhaps worse, “She kissed me like a chorus” is a terrible, obvious analogy. The scene created, like each one in Dawes’ equally trite“When the Tequilla Runs Out,” is beyond forced.
From earlier in the same song:
The future's under fire
The past is gaining ground
I was destined to die dreaming
When one day, my best friend
With passion and pure provocation
Summoned me and said
"You can't condemn your love
To linger here and die
Can't leave your dreams to chance
Or to a spirit in the sky
May your heart always be ardent
Your conscience always clear
And succumb to the city and surrender, baby
I'll be waiting here"
Boy do I hate shit like “the future’s under fire/the past is gaining ground.” What is so terrible about the past? What automatically makes the present – which was evidently going to lead to some sort of utopian future that is now under fire – so inherently better than the ideas of the past? We aren’t happier, we aren’t smarter, we aren’t more creative, and most of us are on drugs simply to function. Maybe we should be looking to the past for answers instead of condemning it for simply having the chronological misfortune of not being today.
And that’s just the beginning. Has there been a more pretentious line than “one day my best friend/with passion and pure provocation/summoned me and said”? Provocation? Summon? Settle down there, buddy. Then there’s the prerequisite - and super edgy! - cheap shot on religion (“you can’t leave your dreams…to a spirit in the sky”) followed by more unnecessary wordiness (using “ardent” in a rock song should be an arrestable offense).
In addition to being about four minutes too long, the lyrics on 7+ minute “Arc of Bar” are about as bad:
She sauced my needs out of my dreams
And baptized me in flesh that seeds
And then she lay me like a baby
On a bed of Spanish moss
And for her love, I would help the devil
To steal Christ right off the cross
“She sauced my needs out of my dreams”? Seriously? I’m all for wordplay and imagery, but that means nothing and sounds stupid. “And she baptized me in flesh that seeds/and then she lay me like a baby/on a bed of Spanish moss” isn’t coherent (“baptized in flesh that seeds” makes no sense), is again unnecessarily wordy (“and then she lay me…”), and absolutely trite in its sad attempt to use religious imagery in a secular context (the reference to baptism and the last two lines). News flash: ripping on Christianity isn’t new, exciting, or edgy. In fact, it’s dreadfully boring.
The worst of King’s faux-losophy comes on album ending “In a Body Like a Grave,” which is so filled with pretentious preaching and tired clichés that it’s hard to isolate a line or two as an example. The first three lines will suffice:
Christ will call you out
School will deepen debt
Work will sap the soul
Okay, okay, enough. Christianity is self-loathing, school is expensive, and work is hard – what penetrating insights.
I know I’m just a lowly writer, but I have some friendly advice for King: put down the latest Ought album and study William Blake, Charles Bukowski, and the lyrics of Hank Williams, John Fogerty, and Rivers Cuomo. The combination of actual depth, contemporary snark, and fresh simplicity will get you closer to what you’re going for without going so constantly over the rails.
Freelance writer Dwight Cornel III is a political commentator for the Ragbag Ramble. Find him on Twitter, @DwightCornellIII.