Half the time when I talk about song lyrics that I love I’m not really talking about the lyric itself at all. More like I mean the delivery. But, that’s not quite it, either. Because that implies that it could be merely be gobbledegook and have the same effect – and that’s just not true. It’s not even close to being true. There’s so much more to it than that.
I just don’t know how to properly explain it. I don’t even know how to tell you that there’s something there to explain.
It’s a mixture of the two, I suppose. The lyric itself is important. The delivery of the lyric is important. I suppose, really, the thing that really sticks is what the singer means by the lyric. The feelings and the emotions they put into it. What it means when they sing it. Because it hardly ever means exclusively what it says.
Or maybe it does, but it’s so emotionally charged that it becomes something much more powerful than the sentiment itself.
In The National’s song Green Gloves Matt Berninger tells the listener that all his friends are somewhere getting wasted. In Wanderlust Frank Turner begs, “baby let’s get out of the city, we need to breathe some cleaner air.” In neither instance are those lyrics particularly affecting, but somehow, in the context of the song, it becomes absolutely beautiful. Both of those examples are some of my favourite “lyrics” in music. In fact, both of those artists do this time and time again.
It isn’t uncommon. We always say that an artists lyrics are beautiful or amazing or resonant, and sometimes they are, but more often, out of context, the lyrics are almost nothing. What’s important is the way the lyrics are sung, the emotion that’s invested in them.
That’s not to say that lyrics can’t be appreciated off their own back, however. To use another example from The National, “I leaned on the wall but the wall leaned away”. Undeniably beautiful, that one. Even when, or particularly when, devoid of context.