DJs and reviewers said some very nice things about my debut album Blink, and I loved that a lot of them picked up on the lyrics. Sure, I’m partial to an elegant melody, a spot of drama or the perfect riff, and not much can beat that sensation when music just makes you want to jump up, shake your tail feather and strut your stuff. Whenever I sit back and listen to a song though, it’s the words I’m listening for.
Of course, a song is a mix of a lot of things – music, melody, words, rhythm, feel and more – but for me, in most of the best ones, pretty much everything serves the lyric. However glorified or simple the arrangement and production, it’s the words that count. Perhaps one of the real beauties of the pop song format is that it’s so good at using music to emphasise words. There’s something about the right simple chord change, the fading sound of a dying note, the brutal howl of a power chord, the shift from major to minor, or a driving beat of a rhythm section powered by a full tank of gas, that can perfectly set off a phrase or idea – whether that’s teasing out meaning, developing a narrative, punching home an image or casting words adrift on a lonely refrain.
So I was more than a little chuffed when I found that critics and music lovers who have reviewed just about every major release of the last several decades were using comments like “lyrics of subtlety and depth” and “beautifully crafted songs” to talk about my album. But there are some things that feel even better than the praise of strangers you respect.
A few weeks after Blink came out (in January 2021), Chris, a good friend I hadn’t seen for a while, called me up and talked at length about the album. He told me how much he liked it and how the lyrics really resonated with him. Going into detail about individual songs, he picked up not just on the key themes but also on some of the more incidental threads – ideas and sentiments only really suggested or hinted at. Most interestingly of all though, he found things in some of the songs that even I didn’t really know were there! What he said made a lot of sense and all fitted with the general sense and sentiments behind my words, but I certainly couldn’t say I was aware I was reaching out to touch that specific nerve, cast that emotion on the wind or poke that particular proverbial bear.
Perhaps this illustrates a key element about songwriting: music should leave room for the listener. Even when we’re looking at a very personal or specific subject, a song needs an element of universality to help people connect with it. The things we leave unsaid, the enigma, can be just as affecting as the words we spell out. Sometimes, songs only really come alive through the things individual listeners bring to them.
We had talked for a long time, with little need for the general wise-cracking we would more routinely indulge in. I’d found much of what my friend had said quite affecting and perhaps we were both starting to get a bit uncharacteristically emotional. Then, just before he rung off, Chris said, “As I listened to the album I thought, I wrote those songs; I must have, because they tell my life.”
The only review I ever needed.