Lyrics vs. Music: an imaginary dichotomy

“Do you think it’s meant to be ironic,” she asked, “that this song sounds really happy while it’s actually about something really sad?”

We were in the car, listening to Jars of Clay’s “Skin and Bones”, off their newest album Inland, which I love and have listened to a bajillion times (give or take a few). But my friend’s question had never actually occurred to me.  I had never really thought about the words of that particular song, as a whole.

“Yes,” I answered, because, after listening to Jars of Clay for almost 10 years, I know that they’re the kind of band that doesn’t just slap lyrics to a melody or vice versa.  Each song is a thought-out, carefully designed whole.

As a lover of music and a lover of words, I can really get into a well-crafted song, on many different levels of reason and emotion.  I can recall periods of my life when I clung more to the words of a song than the music, but I have sailed solidly into weighing music much more heavily than lyrics.  Is it innovative, is it interesting, is it complex, is it compelling?

Without realizing it, I’ve been missing half the point of a lot of songs.  Ok, so sometimes songs offer more musically than they do lyrically.  But I try my best to only listen to good music (which is the type of statement that makes sense to me but in reality seems superfluous – like good oranges are really good, etc).  Music that’s good as a whole, though I’m more likely to choose a song with mediocre lyrics and awesome music than awesome lyrics and mediocre music.

This is not to say I never analyze or appreciate the words of a song.  I can tell you the meanings of many of the other songs on that same album, Inland, just off the top of my head, and what they mean to me personally. As I said above, I’m a music person but I’m also quite conscientiously a words person.

Yet it seems I owe some favorites another listen, and deeper consideration.


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