Lyrics and those who attack them

I’ve been dipping into Gary Giddins again. In today’s episode, he declares “the manifest adultness of great lyrics,” which I think is true, and not entirely limited to the so-called “Great American Songbook” of ’20s-’40s standards that he happens to be discussing. He also comments that, “[f]or some reason, few postrock singers can mine the meaning of prerock songs. Is it the often literary and metaphorical language that is alien to them or the rhythms on which the songs are dependent or the required subtlety in phrasing? Those with a theatrical background tend to overemote in a nonswinging Streisandarian bellow, as if determined to clobber the songs before they can clobber them back.”

I think he’s right on all counts here, too. I find it difficult to listen to, say, Rod Stewart either searching for or faking the right kind of sophistication to inhabit these songs. To say he hasn’t got it in him is to be kind. But, of course, the “nonswinging Streisandarian bellow,” so often mistaken for great singing is much, much worse. The song may not always get in the first punch, but it does always defeat these clowns

As we all know, if it ain’t got that swing, it don’t mean a thing.

[Along these musically judgmental lines, I used to love the way that the editors of the Penguin Guide to Classical Music used the word “suave” as a dismissive pejorative, being somehow foreign, and dangerously ingratiating. (You know what these foreigners are.) In my memory, at least, good English performances were “bright,” “open,” and “direct,” sometimes “lyrical” or “luminescent.” And, you know? They are.]



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