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Friday, 10 February 2012

Puzzling lyrics.

While I was listening to my iPod on shuffle recently, a couple of songs came on, one after the other, and caused exactly the same thought in my mind, what the hell are these lyrics about?

The two songs in question just happened to be The Kills’ Alphabet Pony and Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manics.

My thought harked back to an experience I had playing Motorcycle Emptiness to my dad quite a few years ago now, thinking he would enjoy the song’s guitar parts. Instead, he listened attentively to the six-minute song and then promptly asked ‘What is motorcycle emptiness then?’ And I had no answer. That was all he had to say about the song.

FYI, the song’s Wikipedia page says the following: The lyrics have been interpreted by the band as an attack on the hollowness of the consumer lifestyle offered by capitalism, describing how society expects young people to conform.

Oh right, that’s clears that up. Well, anyway… For me it is an example of a lyric/song title becoming a distraction, overshadowing the music with questions about meaning and rationale.

While rubbish lyrics are obviously worse, a lyric that is confusing, cryptic or bizarre is instead harder to shake off. Am I missing out on some obvious reference? Are they trying to exclude people like me? Am I just stupid?

I like both of the aforementioned songs but I don’t want to spend my time wondering what the hell an alphabet pony is. And these aren't the only songs I like that confound and confuse me.

On The Smiths’ Bigmouth Strikes Again, Morrissey sings, ‘Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, as the flames rose to her roman nose and her Walkman started to melt.’ I’ve always wondered what the hell that line was about? Any ideas? Mozza is a great lyricist and I’m sure he had some meaning when writing that, but it’s beyond me whatever it is.

Vampire Weekend are a band for cryptic lyrics, with one particular line stuck in my mind as it features in two of their songs. ‘But this feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.’ is a line from the choruses of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa (also WTF?) and Ottoman. And I have no idea what the reference to the former Genesis frontman means.

Massive Attack’s trip-hop debut album Blue Lines is one of my favourite albums, and the title track is a high point of the album. However, when looking through the lyrics, this line stands out as particularly strange and nonsensical. ‘She told me take an occupation or you lose your mind. And on a nine to five lemon, looking for the lime.’

While I can’t (or shouldn’t) really rap along with 3D and Tricky anyway, I refuse to join in on that line. ‘Take my piece of mind and sign my name across your heart.’ is one of the best last lines of any song ever though.

Do you ever find yourself confused, scared or angry by any lyrics you hear? Which ones do it for you? And if anyone has any info about the lyrics I've mentioned, feel free to share it with all of us.


  1. Good read Tim, sometimes when in the context of a song, weird lyrics just make sense, and other times crap lyrics are just crap lyrics, i'm looking at you The Killers. Keep up the good work :)

  2. Thank you Anonymous. That's very true. And poor Brandon has written a dud or two in his time hasn't he, still, he can rock a feathered jacket and that's no mean feat.