16 October 2009

Down through the layers of song

At JSBlog, Ray Girvan extols the joys of song "with layers of meaning".

Thinking about that, I realise that it holds the key to something about my own musical preferences which I have struggled to explain – to others or to myself.

On one hand, and it's perhaps the major strand, I have always been drawn to song lyrics; if they are backed up by good music, that's important too, but the lyrics come first. It started with attraction to storytelling songs (Woody Guthrie was an early childhood avourite) and then, in my teens, developed into "literary" ones. I love the verbal acrobatics of Catatonia, for instance, such as the line “so she buys wet fish” (in the Equally Cursed & Blessed song "She's a millionaire") which Matthews sang in such a way that “so she” slurred into “sushi” or the opening play on "treasure chest".

But then, on the other hand, I am primarily attracted to Kate Bush not by the lyrics (though they are interesting in themselves) but by the astonishing things she does with her voice.

Reading Ray's comments, I realise that layers of meaning are the key in both cases. Catatonia play with verbalised layers; Bush with the emotional effects of melody; both invite multiple readings of the result. Not that I reach the levels of layering displayed by Ray's German and Icelandic examples, but the principle is there.

So that's that sorted then; on to the next thing...

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