Category Archives: criticism

I’ll lose some sales and my boss won’t be happy but I can’t stop listening to the sound…

by anti-folk hero

The Kings of Convenience are one of the most relaxed bands that have ever floated through my consciousness. Their music is breezy and laid back but still complex and interesting. Their songs are based on the harmonies of two guitars and two voices. The Norwegian duo consists of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, a couple of dudes who used to jam together and finally decided to write some songs. They only have two albums out at the moment and Erlend is already in another band, but their second release transcends cultural barriers and resonates perfectly as an album without pretensions or self-consciousness.

Riot

“Riot on an Empty Street” plays like a lost Nick Drake album (if he’d been accompanied by John Denver) or an English language João Gilberto record. But the key here are the harmonies; the record is propelled to greatness by the intricacy of the singing and guitar playing. The two sing and play complicated arrangements as casually as if they’d been born to play them. The nylon string guitars are also a nice touch; having grown up playing both nylon and steel stringed acoustic guitars myself, I appreciate a record that makes use of the softer, more percussive sound of a nylon string guitar. Let’s take a look at Cayman Islands, a track from “Riot on an Empty Street.”

Here are the lyrics.

Kings of Convenience – Cayman Islands

Through the alleyways to cool off in the shadows
Then into the street following the water

  • This reminds me so much of Venice. We were there in late July and it was hot as all hell, and we literally walked through the alleyways to cool off in the shadows. This couplet is my experience of Venice, perfectly captured.

There’s a bearded man paddling in his canoe
Looks as if he has come all the way from the Cayman Islands

These canals, it seems, they all go in circles
Places look the same, and we’re the only difference
The wind is in your hair, it’s covering my view
I’m holding on to you, on a bike we’ve hired until tomorrow

  • Now this has me thinking of Amsterdam on a quiet street off of the main drag. The lyrics evoke the reflection of a person who is just visiting, though looking around passively on the back of a bike. The lines about the wind and the bike bring you out of your reflective state and back in the moment, a good moment I’d assume, to remember the beauty and happiness you’re feeling at that point in time.

If only they could see, if only they had been here
They would understand, how someone could have chosen
To go the length I’ve gone, to spend just one day riding
Holding on to you, I never thought it would be this clear

Kings of C

These lyrics are relaxing, refreshing and enjoyable. Having just backpacked my way through Europe last summer, the lines in this song bring back memories of walking around in Venice and Amsterdam. Its not often that modern music is used to relax, soothe, or alleviate the tensions in our lives. Most often, with music like punk or pop, what we get is something that emulates the tension we feel. While this can help us feel connected to a greater mass of stressed out people, the Kings of Convenience have used their songwriting skills to create something that allows you to sit back and dream. Who else can you say that about these days?

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X T C ** n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

by anti-folk hero

For those of you out there who love rock music, especially British rock music, who haven’t heard of Andy Partridge or his group XTC, you’re missing out on one of the best pop groups of the post-punk era. Like a true songwriter, his music isn’t confined to a single sound or approach; rhythms can change without warning, as well as melodies. His lyrics as well as his song structures affirm his commitment to originality and pop sensibility.

Andy Partridge

I really shouldn’t be so hard on people who haven’t listened to XTC. It took me a long time to fully appreciate their songs. The erratic vocal rhythms and rhyme schemes make it especially difficult to pick up on the lyrics, which are important to the overall interpretation of the song. Take “No Thugs in Our House,” off of their album English Settlement. Forget the fact that the song is incredibly catchy; while that is hard enough for most bands to achieve, XTC manages to write a coherent set of lyrics that tell a story. Here’s my interpretation of the song (note – if you want to read along to the song, start the vid at the bottom of the page playing and then scroll back up and read the lyrics as the song plays);

No Thugs

n o t h u g s i n o u r h o u s e

The insect-headed worker-wife
will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Ok, so you’re thinking, “what?”

her husband burns his paper,
sucks his pipe while studying their cushion-floor;
his viscous poly-paste breath comes out,
their wall-paper world is shattered by his shout,

  • So far, you have no idea what’s going on. But when you think of the insect-headed worker wife hanging her waspies on the line (waspies being a play on a WASP’s white laundry) and their wall paper world being shattered by his shout, you get a pretty clear picture of a bland white family in working-class England (or America) with the typical, bossy, overbearing father and the good house-wife mother. So far, though, this is all set-up, like a good story.

a boy in blue is busy banging out a headache on the kitchen door.

  • This line is easy to skip over, but it’ll come to mean something later in the song. Amateur writers and lyricists take note; this is called foreshadowing. Its part of a greater writing style called subtlety, the meaning of which has been forgotten in the modern era but is believed by current experts to mean “writing while thinking.”

all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to

  • The first time they sing the lines about Graham, you’re thinking, “oh Graham, sleeping away, dreaming of a world where he can do just what he wanted to. I can relate to that.” But this song isn’t about a kid in a boring middle class suburban family with nothing to do. That would be too easy. However, thus far, this is what you’re led to believe the song is about.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • This is the chorus. Right now this doesn’t mean much, but it will later on. I’d hate to spoil it for you.

no thugs in our house ,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
the young policeman who just can’t grow a moustache will open
up his book,

  • Remember the man in blue knocking out a headache on the kitchen door? Voila.

and spoil their breakfast with reports of asians who have been so badly kicked, is this your son’s wallet I’ve got here?

  • The last two lines really give away the most about the actual meaning of the song. This explains the policeman’s visit and also gives us a hint that maybe Graham isn’t the nice little kid we all thought he was.

he must have dropped it after too much beer!
oh, officer,
we can’t believe our little angel is the one you’ve picked.

  • This is his parent’s most likely excuse for why the wallet was outside. Seems obvious, right? But the bigger idea here is what is going on. Graham is a some sort of neo-fascist, racist thug, and they’re so delusional that they refuse to accept it.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

  • Now the chorus reads completely differently. Instead of Graham being some sort of rebellious kid being punished by his boring parents, Graham is a sinister little monster being protected by his parents. The chorus reads like a conversation between his parents where they are convincing themselves that he couldn’t possibly be the little shit that they know he is.

no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear we made little
graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
they never read those pamphlets in his bottom drawer,
they never read that tattoo on his arm.
they thought that was just a boys club badge he wore,
they never thought he’d do folks any harm.
the insect-headed worker wife will hang her waspies on the line;

  • Right here you think the lyrics are about to repeat, but Andy changes it up and continues the story. The next part takes place after the cop leaves, after having not arrested Graham.

she’s singing something
stale and simple now this business has fizzled out;
her little tune is such a happy song
her son is innocent,
he can’t do wrong,
‘cos dads a judge and knows exactly what the job of judging’s all about.

  • I like the play on the word “judge” from the above line. Dad’s a judge who knows what judging’s all about; judging that his kid is innocent despite the plain facts and also filling his kids head with stereotypes and racist judgment of other groups of people.

and all the while graham slept on,
dreaming of a world where he could do just what he wanted to.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.
no thugs in our house,
are there dear?
we made that clear
we made little graham promise us he’d be a good boy.

At the end of this song, you realize that instead of hearing a light-hearted song about a young teenager who needs to get out of the house and party, you’ve instead just heard a sharply written social critique of parents who condone their children’s behavior by ignoring reality and sticking to their delusions. Partridge’s lyrics are a mirror; by showing people their own phobias and sacred cows he is getting them to judge themselves.

I decided to write this song up because in my last article I thrashed Fall Out Boy’s lyrics while still admitting that they were a catchy band. I wanted to show that a song could be catchy without having to be devoid of any meaning, but also that when a song is written in such a way that it does have meaning, its much more satisfying to listen to. To those of you who haven’t heard this song yet, here’s a link below.

[Youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=WJ9ieVLaLo8]

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Fall Out Boy; A Reasonable, Unbiased Analysis

by anti-folk hero

If you live in America and you’re not locked in a dungeon somewhere, you’ll most likely have heard of Fall Out Boy. Thanks to the advertising machine, you can find their name plastered to the pages of magazines like Rolling Stone and Teen Crush. I recently found myself bad mouthing them when I had an epiphany – I had never even listened to Fall Out Boy! In an optimistic moment I thought, maybe I’m assuming too much and should let the music speak for itself.

I pulled up the video for “This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race” on YouTube and watched it. The song was surprisingly catchy. While the words were mainly incomprehensible, the melody and style were in the vein of nineties southern California punk bands that I’d grown up listening to like the Get Up Kids, Face to Face and Nofx. Getting a bit hard, I pulled up a copy of the lyrics. I’ve pasted a copy of them below. Let’s take a look at the lyrical insights Fall Out Boy has to offer the music world.

FALL OUT BOY LYRICS

“This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race”

I am an arms dealer
Fitting you with weapons in the form of words

· The whole “arms dealer” fitting you with “weapons in the form of words” sounds like an angry 14 year old that gets off on violence. ZZZZZZZz. Boring. Maybe the entity being fitted with the “word weapons” is the record company that gets a direct emotional link with young, confused, pubescent kids by shamelessly promoting this band like an indie rock 98 Degrees.


And don’t really care which side wins
As long as the room keeps singing

· This is a subversive lyric. Not caring who wins isn’t cool, its just lazy. The Beasties at least told you to fight for your right to party and John Lennon tried to put the word out that “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” You guys can’t give peace a chance cause you’re incapable of giving a shit. Nothing to say and no reason to say it. Message-less rock at its best!


That’s just the business I’m in, yeah

· This purposeless 5th line sounds like a discarded lyric by BTO.


This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
I’m not a shoulder to cry on
But I digress

· Please, don’t digress. Your lecture on this “goddamned arms race” was so racy and controversial that I almost felt a surge of revolutionary pride. Oh yeah, and way to reinforce the tough guy, emotionally repressed stereotype on a new generation of people. And wtf are you talking about anyway? What ain’t a scene? Your music video? And don’t worry, no one wants to cry on your shoulder. You’re a dangerous arms dealer with those “word weapons.” Scary!


I’m a leading man
And the lies I weave are oh so intricate,
Oh so intricate
[x2]

· What exactly is “oh so intricate” about anything you have said thus far? Was it your doctoral thesis on the misnomer of “scene” when in fact this is “a goddamned arms race?” Or is it your artistic use of the fifth line? Maybe its your blasé, “don’t care who wins” attitude that has no doubt helped you to reach new zeniths of lazy, taco bell indulgence. And if you’re lying, does that mean that you really do give a shit? All of these “oh so intricate” lies and really hitting me deep, man. R’speck.


I wrote the gospel on giving up
(You look pretty sinking)

· Writing the gospel…wait a second…are you a religious group? I bet you guys are backed by some serious religious interests. Nice way to explain your lazy, do-nothing-for-anyone-but-yourself lifestyles. The “look pretty sinking line” sounds like emo babble. Pretty, sinking, suicidal innuendo, sexual fantasy revolving around death perhaps? Eh, Couldn’t be that deep.


But the real bombshells have already sunk
(Primadonnas of the gutter)

· Meaningless lines. Drowning analogies are lame.


At night we’re painting your trash gold while you sleep
Crashing not like hips or cars*,
No, more like p-p-p-parties

· Do you enjoy painting my trash gold? Cause that sounds like one boring activity. But because you do it while I sleep, its mischevious. Also, kudos on your creative use of the word “crashing.” The double entendre was philosophical and deep.


This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This bandwagon’s full
Please, catch another

· The last two lines sound like jock culture tenets. Something that a snooty seventh grader would pompously say to a kid with thick glasses before beating him up.


I’m a leading man
And the lies I weave are oh so intricate,
Oh so intricate
[x2]

· Every time you say this, you say “oh so intricate” twice, then you repeat it, which makes it four times. Oh, and a quick tip – saying that the lies you weave are intricate doesn’t make it true. You’re not exactly Eminem.


Yeahh…
Whoa-ohh

· Keep the room singin’ (or snorin’).


All the boys who the dance floor didn’t love
And all the girls whose lips couldn’t move fast enough

· That dance floor is one mean motherfucker. Lips can’t move fast enough for what? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? Answer = absolutelyfuckingnothing.


Sing, until your lungs give out

· Hey, you know what? I think I’d like to hear that chorus for a third time! Anyone else? Any?


This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
(Now you)
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
(Wear out the groove)

· Wear the groove? That sounds cool, I guess. Gotta throw in a “hip” vinyl reference.

This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
(Sing out loud)
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race
(Oh, oh)
This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamned arms race

I’m a leading man
And the lies I weave are oh so intricate,
Oh so intricate
[x2]

· Ok, I get it, you’re so smart and your lies are “oh so intricate, oh so intricate” times two. Was it necessary to tell me this a total fo 12 times over the course of the song? Jesus, at least paraphrase. Maybe this has something to do with your distaste for reading books (explained below).

As you can completely objectively see, the lyrics are trite, repetative and full of negative reinforcement. Why should you care who wins as long as the party keeps on going? I did feel attacked at first by their dangerous word bombs but ended the song feeling like I just sat through a three hour bar mitzvah.

So how do I connect the bad lyrics with the song that I liked? Why would a band that sounds so good have so little to say? To answer these questions, I turned to the internet to find interviews with the band. Maybe hearing what they had to say would give me an insight into who they were. Here are some excerpts.

Bradley: If you had to label yourself in a musical category would you suck it up and take it like a man, throw a temper tantrum like a child, or debate about it endlessly like a senior citizen?

FOB: Categories are for the library and I ain’t no bookworm.

· Spoken like a person who has never even read a book. Way to be cool, asshole.

What is the songwriting process like with Fall Out Boy?

PW: I write words all the time and give them to [Stump] when he’s writing music. He’s writing music all the time, too.

PS: It’s like, we’re not in bands because we want the MTV. We’re in bands because we enjoy doing it. Whenever I’m not doing interviews, I’m probably writing music and he’s writing words, and at any given moment we’re putting something together.

Can you believe they asked them about their songwriting process? “We just write songs ‘n shit.” That’s oh so intricate of you. My theory is that Fall Out Boy is a tool of the US government. The devil isn’t a fat guy in a red suit with a tail and a pitchfork, he’s a Homeland Security-backed band with nothing to say. If they didn’t have a catchy sound, they would be inconsequential and thus their words would be limp dicked weapons. I’m surprised that a guy named Stump thinks that he has a way with words. Maybe its a penis reference, denoting his “stump-like” cock. Or perhaps he was an extra on King of the Hill before making it big in the music industry?

I think that upon signing their lives over to Island Records they also signed over creative control to some third party, most likely a committee of elderly white men in robes chanting in tongues. They, in turn, wrote lyrics that would not inspire people to speak out but would instead keep people from wanting to speak out. They control what we’re allowed to hear. When you’re being lied to by your leaders, ignorance becomes pro-government. Now that I’ve outed Fall Out Boy, its time to get the word out. Keep music about the music. Love the music but hate the words, dudes! Buy yourself a Dylan record. I suggest Blonde on Blonde.

To be fair, here’s the video. Judge for yourself.

 

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