Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Decline of Rock Lyricism

Against my better judgment, I recently decided to listen to the local rock radio station for a few days to catch up on developments in the world of modern music. After two days of being subjected to the newest offerings, I am ready to declare that rock lyricism is dead. The days of lead singers plumbing the depths of their souls and slaving over layered allegories are long gone, replaced by what I can only assume were words hastily jotted down on a napkin at White Castle.

The first offender is Ohio-based rock outfit Foxy Shazam, a band whose chart topper “I Like It” is a subtle tribute to the posterior of an African-American female:

Verse Sample
My gangsta girl
With the wavy curl
And a sexy
Street talking slang
You mesmerize
Me and you mess with I
When you booty pop and drop it
Like it aint no thing

That’s the biggest black ass I've ever seen
(And I like it, I like it)
That’s the biggest black ass I've ever seen
(And I like it, I like it, a lot)
(repeat ad nauseam)

While I can appreciate the ethnic diversity expressed by the group, their delivery makes Sir-Mix-A-Lot seem poetic. Plus, if her buttocks warrant such attention this poor woman may very well be suffering from elephantiasis or some other chronic medical condition in which case the lyrics may as well be “That’s the most debilitating case of Type II Diabetes I’ve ever seen” (And I Like It).

The narrator does seem to have formed a deep emotional bond with the young lady so I was dismayed when the song ended without a resolution. Did she reciprocate? Did the “poppin’ & droppin’” continue like it “ain’t no thang?” In my mind the couple is currently planning a medieval-themed destination wedding and making plans to open a bail-bonding service called “Big-Ass Bonds,” but I am a bit of a romantic……

The next offender is Canadian collective Theory of a Deadman, whose single “Lowlife” is a high-brow ode to those who exist outside the boundaries of acceptable societal norms.

Verse Sample
A gun-packing, bitch-smacking, mess with me it's gonna happen
Loving life living in sin
No sleeves, can't read, doesn't even phase me
Naked, sleeping like a baby tonight
I'm a cash-stealing, drug-dealing loser without any feeling
Getting trailer trash tonight

'Cause I'm a low life, and I'm loving it
I've got the whole damn world in the palm of my hand
I'm a low life, so f*****g deal with it
No you can't change something that you don't understand

While a lesser group might have simply declared the protagonist a lowlife and asked the audience to accept their categorization on faith, T.O.A.D provides a wealth of empirical evidence to support this classification. The citizen in question enjoys domestic violence, narcotics trafficking, and embezzlement between bouts of extreme inebriation. Of course, the career options for an armed, illiterate alcoholic with anger issues are somewhat limited. Outside of starting a militia or Canadian rock band the future can seem pretty dim.

The next offenders are Pennsylvania rockers Halestorm, who latest single “Love Bites (And So Do I)” speaks to an entire generation of men looking for a meaningless rebound relationship with an overly-aggressive stranger.

Verse Sample
I slither like a viper And get you by the neck
My lips are pale and vicious. You’re foaming at the mouth.

They say it’s blind they say it waits but every time it seals your fate
And now it’s got you by the balls it won’t let go until you fall

You’ve suffered in the darkness. I’ll suck the pain right out.
So come and taste the reason I’m nothing like the rest.
I kiss you in a way you’ll never forget about me.

That bitch can eat her heart out
Love bites, but so do I, so do I.
Love bites, but so do I, so do I.
Love bites!

One could reasonably argue that the devastation of lost love is an inexhaustible source of material for songwriting; and while there are a plethora of songs dealing with the emotional aftermath few, if any, openly reference testicles.

While I am glad to see more women fronting rock bands, I am just a bit confused by the serpent imagery. Is she the snake? If she is the snake doesn’t it seem superfluous for her to suck out her own poison? I cannot tell if this is a metaphor or a first aid course.

I do love it when lyricists utilize commonly-occurring behaviors as the basis for their exclusivity. What makes her unique? Is it the fact that she believes herself superior to the young man’s previous love interest?  For instance, if your song gains popularity because a large number of people identify with the line “I’m nothing like the rest” doesn’t that nullify the line’s meaning? Just once I would like to hear a rock song that says, “While I may not make you forget about her, I possess a nurturing disposition and understated sensuality that she is unwilling or unable to showcase.”

While we can attribute the other bands’ lyrical shortcomings to inexperience, the final entry has no excuse. Van Halen’s long-awaiting David Lee Roth comeback album launched with the body-art ditty “Tattoo”.

Verse Sample
I got Elvis on my elbow and when I flex, Elvis talks
I got hula girls on the back of my leg and she hula's when I walk
Best believe that needle will hurt you
Best to see these true colors than follow one of your false virtues

Swap meet Sally, tramp Stamp Tat
House-wife to bomb-shell in the time it took to get that new tattoo
Tattoo Tattoo
Tattoo Tattoo
Show me your dragon magic
Tattoo Tattoo
So autobiographic

Including the title, the word “tattoo” appears no less than 20 times in the song. Even for a guy whose sole purpose is to provide marginally-palatable lyrical accompaniment to Eddie’s playing this seems sub-par. While I do applaud the way he highlights body art’s ability transcend one’s station in life (house-wife to bomb-shell) I think he could have been a bit more specific. After all, a tastefully placed butterfly could be alluring while a prominently-displayed Yosemite Sam might go the other way.

Roth is also sending mixed signals concerning his overall fitness level. While being able to “flex” one’s elbow at 57 is impressive, the fact that his legs jiggle so violently as to animate several hula girls seems troublesome. To be fair, he does get somewhat philosophical concerning a tattoo’s ability to “hurt you” by showing “true colors”. At least I assume his intention was to pre-emptively warn would be recipients of body-ink’s ability to convey one’s unspoken thoughts and not to literally decry physical pain and unintended color saturation.   

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