Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dig your tunes or get buried by them


Talent in any form will trump attitude day of the week with me, but first I have to ask what the the talent is for. "Bad attitude" can be a talent by way of a trait some might think cool and alluring from afar, "chronic depression" seems to go a long way for other listeners to ignore the calculable merits of melodies, vocals and lyrics and wallow in the sepia-toned aura of guitaring cave dwellers whose talent inhabits a dampened set of neurons. Likewise, a punk with a torn black t-shirt, crud-encrusted jeans and a spoke through an upper lip doesn't require a discourse in harmony or theory to justify the inherent value of his or her choice of belligerent tone warping. What it represents is the value, the noisy symbolism of rage, which means the niceties of song construction don't even enter the discussion. Attitude and persona only get you so far, though, and many are left scratching whatever body part that itches, wondering what the hell?

So I go back to the songs themselves and weigh their characteristics--no mystery here, it's melody, vocal, lyrics again, along with musicianship, production, and a host of other niggling details--and make a judgement based on an floating scale as to how the ingredients succeed or fail in doing what songs are supposed to do, which is to kick ass, make me sad, make me rage, rant, pant, behave or go crazy in the head, or, in worst case scenario, turn off the damn noise off.

Standards and demands on good songwriting are in constant flux, of course, and you need to have the proverbial big ears to assess material's worth against not just the history of pop music in general, but also within the genre the artist writes within. Standards within standards can make this a no win proposition for someone trying to create an objective criteria, but we're all aware of the most rigorous test: does the music grab you , make you bob your head with your eyes closed, cause your hands to beat time with the flat of your palm, force you to improvise solos composed of  

non words and advanced variations of clearing the throat, all of while enthralled with melody , a snappy drumbeat, a sweeping crescendo, some manner of melody that has sneaked under the barriers around your sense of propriety and seduced you beyond this moment's repair?
The first reaction is one that can't be faked with faux theory and revisionist contextualization along sociological rather than musical lines. You are either moved in a visceral , immediate way, or you are left there formulating a more intellectualized response. Considered, thoughtful, critical responses are legitimate too, in their place, but there's a lot of fakery going about the net and print media. But that riff, that drum beat, that whoop of aggression that gets your legs moving, fist pumping, jaw jutting? Priceless commentary on the music coming forth, without the vocabulary to obscure, cloud and confuse the experience. It's not a necessarily an accurate gauge of a song's value and worth in the scheme of recorded music , but its value lies elsewhere, in a rare moment in the week where you're responding to something that needn't , for the moment, be classified, catalogued and critiqued like it were a virus that science is trying to destroy