Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Music v Lyrics

One of my favourite tracks from the recently-released Temper Trap album, 'Down River', begins with this lyric:

Finally/ we have seen some things/ some awfully nice/ some dreadfully bad

Depending upon your view, such a lyric is either quite profound or equivalent to fourth-grade poetry. Does it distract from the song? A little... but I still think it's an excellent track - the beat is catchy and the harmonies are great. But it again raised the question for me about how important the lyrics actually are to a pop song? While bad is bad, I've found that many great acts can get by with lyrics that are barely adequate - Oasis being one of the best examples. Furthermore however, there are heaps of cases where I would choose the band with (what I think is) the better music over the band with the better lyrics - Oasis and the Verve over Pulp, the Beatles over the Stones, the Stone Roses over the Happy Mondays, the Vines over the Strokes, David Bowie over Bob Dylan, heaps of people over Leonard Cohen, and so on...

On the other hand, I still prefer some lyrics over none - I'll take Cut Copy and Passion Pit over the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk for example. But I also prefer songs with guitars and drums over those without. Which suggests to me that vocals are, primarily, just another instrument that I like. And it doesn't matter too much what the precise words are, just as long as they feel like part of the song.

(Of course, no doubt after posting this, I'll think of dozens of examples where the lyrics make the song, but I'll stick by these observations for now.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Finger Points Outwards - No.19

A report on the Manufacturing industry that I wrote for the Australian Fair Pay Commission has been released. You can find it here:

Manufacturing Industry Profile

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How The She-Hulk Made Me Accept My Mortality

This week I picked up the fourth issue of Marvel’s late-1980s-early-1990s comic book series, The Sensational She-Hulk, a comic I first read when I was not even nine years old. (I already owned a copy, but I found issues #1-7 as a block, and didn’t feel like I could separate them. It’s a tic…) In the issue, a character named the Blonde Phantom, who is a comic book heroine from the 1940s, attempts to become a supporting character in the She-Hulk’s title. Her motive for doing so is to prevent herself from further aging, given that comic book characters remain the same age (hell-oooo Tintin…) Her husband’s death, during the years in which they were waiting to be brought back into the funny pages, has highlighted to her the ‘fact’ of her mortality.

The Blonde Phantom’s dilemma made me fondle my own grey hairs, as I have increasingly come to the realization that, as I approach the age of 30, I am more often becoming older than the characters I read about. Writer/artist Frank Miller once had a similar realization with regard to the Batman – his solution was to age Bruce Wayne by twenty years for The Dark Knight Returns. But it is not just comic book characters; I recently re-read Catch-22 and was horrified to find that Yossarian, though a captain, was three years younger than I am, and he is one of the older characters in the novel. (Although the fact that so many young men are being sent to die may be part of the point.) I am nine years older than Lizzy Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. And even real-life figures bring me no comfort – I’m older than almost all of the Beatles at the time they made their final album, Abbey Road, and older than Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison at the time of their deaths.

When I was not even nine years old, the adventures of my heroes seemed possible for me, something I could do if I only were old enough. Now, far more often, they seem to be the achievements of people younger than myself who have achieved so much more. How will I cope as I approach middle-age and these characters remain as young as ever? Is the point that you grow out of popular culture the one where you realize that the people you are following are young enough to be your children?

I sensed the specter of Father Time hanging over me… until I remembered the Blonde Phantom asking the She-Hulk how old she was. ‘Thirty-one,’ she replied. Thirty-one!! My not-even-nine-year-old self had always thought of the She-Hulk as a fun, hip and happening girl. To learn that she was still older than I am filled my heart with hope. Over a year still remains in which I will be younger than my green-skinned gal, and there will be another few years after that in which I will be within an acceptable age range. Hooray! My youth is not done with yet! And hopefully, by the time that I can no longer deny that I have passed my physical peak, such trivialities will have longed cease to matter…