Casually Courting Controversy: Blender’s List of Lyrical Losers
I know the whole point of lists is to generate discussion, sell magazines (or websites) and hopefully piss off a bunch of people in a witty, off-the-cuff kind of way. But Blender has gone too far! They have just released their list of the 40 Worst Lyricists in Rock. First off, why they used Rock, and not some other term is beyond me – since when has P. Diddy, or Kevin Federline been considered rock?
As with any list such as this, there is something to piss off just about everybody, whether you’re a fan of The Doors, or the Black Eyed Peas, or Creed. Okay, well, sorry, yeah, I don’t think anyone is a fan of Creed. But this list has a little something for everyone, and then some. And I think the editors of Blender haven’t learned how to distinguish between a truly bad lyricist and an artist that occasionally writes a bad song. Paul McCartney is not a bad lyricist. Sure, he may have his off songs, but anyone who has given us such tracks as Yesterday, Blackbird, Let it Be, and Band on the Run, shouldn’t really be placed on this list.
And please, Carly Simon? Her track, You’re So Vain has great lyrics – full of biting sarcasm and word play. Blender even uses her rhyming of ‘apricot’ with ‘gavotte’ in their tagline as an example of a bad rhyme. Huh? The song ain’t mopey, or whiny, it’s a clever rant against the prancing, narcissistic male superstar, of which their are legion in the entertainment biz.
Others, like Donovan, wrote some very good songs in his hey-day, like Catch the Wind, and Colours (yeah, there were plenty of silly ones), and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie may not have the best voice, but his words are always interesting and catchy (btw, I had to look up the term ’emo’, and I can safely say that I ain’t one, but I still enjoy listening to DCFC). They also have a real hate on for Bernie Taupin, who, admittedly writes weird and perhaps silly things, but the marriage of his words and Elton John’s music produced great things in the early 1970s.
Perhaps Blender was looking for lyrics that can be ripped from their melodies and still stand on their own. Well, there aren’t a lot of songs like that around. For instance: “I want to live/I want to give/I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold/It’s these expressions I never give/That keep me searching for a heart of gold/And I’m getting old/That keep me searching for a heart of gold/And I’m getting old”. The rhyming scheme is grade-school simple and repetitive, as is the sentiment, yet this is one of Neil Young’s most famous and popular songs. May I present another? Okay: “With the lights out it’s less dangerous/Here we are now, entertain us/I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now, entertain us/A mulatto/An albino/A mosquito/My Libido/Yea” Sounds like angry, teen-angst ramblings, yet this song and its group, Nirvana, is considered a watershed moment for rock, and launched a whole new era of pop music.
But what really irked me about this list, the reason, actually, for the post, was who they chose as their number one Worst Lyricist: Sting. Yup, that guy from The Police. I’ve been a fan of Sting for years. He’s one of my favourite pop musicians, and generally his lyrics can be easily separated from his sounds, and read for the poetry they are. Indeed, Blender’s critique of Sting is more about how he used to be cool in his Police days, and then went solo, and went soft. It’s telling that they don’t actually have an example of a ‘worst lyric’ like they do with the others, and one of the only examples they cite is this one from the song Russians: ‘conditioned to respond to all the threats/In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets’, which really isn’t that bad of a lyric, and when taken in the context of the song, and the time he was writing it, makes perfect sense.
Sting’s album, The Soul Cages, which Blender describes as having ‘[liberated] ‘soccer moms’ from their [own] “soul cages”‘, is a brilliant album, deeply personal, and full of biblical and poetical references that speak to Gordon Sumner’s despondency after the death of his father – they aren’t just used as superficial gloss. I don’t love every Sting song, and I’ll be the first to admit that Sacred Love, released a few years ago, is a bit of a bust, but to claim that his music is full of “mountainous pomposity, cloying spirituality, ham-handed metaphors” is to deny the complexity of his syntax:
Two priests came ‘round our house tonight
One young, one old
To offer prayers for the dying
To serve the final rite
One to learn, one to teach
Which way the cold wind blows
Fussing and flapping in priestly black
Like a murder of crows
Well, that last bit was a simile, but you get the point. Combined with the simple, yet catchy tune, that is anything but pompous, All This Time, the second track of The Soul Cages, is, in my opinion, a perfect pop song. I think the editors of Blender are too afraid of good, challenging lyrics, or perhaps they simply just don’t “get it.” Whatever the case, I’m sure Sting couldn’t care less about appearing on this sort of a list, which is all the better, as he really, truly, emphatically, doesn’t deserve to be.
Okay, okay – I’ll give them Alanis Morissette. llewopemearg