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No Talent Necessary, No Experience Required
By Michael Askounes - 01/18/2004 - 09:12 PM EST

Hi folks... it's the "Newbie" back again with another episode of the "Nook"! First, I must thank the folks who were nice enough to e-mail me and to take part in the new "Newbie's Nook" corner of the Muse's Muse Message Board. I always welcome feedback and suggestions at otteaux@musesmail.com.

Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream...

Before I get into today's topic, which is going to be about the usefulness of lyrical critiques, I'd like to mention quickly that I've totally flipped my lid and gone and joined a local rock 'n' roll band. I dropped about $1500 on new top-notch guitar gear (which my wife almost dropped on my head), and jumped headfirst into the realm of Drop-D tunings and whiny lead singers.

That's right... we're a cover band, and we're doing cover tunes of 21st century nu-metal classics like Creed... Seether... System of a Down... blah... blah... blah. And I've since realized that I could've just purchased a $20 Fisher-Price Rock'n'Elmo guitar, and I would've had all the chords I needed to play every rock song written after 2000 or so. You see, I grew up on The Beatles, Led Zeppelin... bands that had musical chops and innovative songwriting. I then graduated to progressive rock bands like Yes, where apparently you'd be fired from the line up if you didn't change time signatures every two minutes.

Some critics called that type of music pretentious, and I can see their point at times. But as someone who's just spent the last week learning a set list filled with Disturbed, Good Charlotte and the like, I'll take my tunes with a side of talent, thanks. It's all about image now, I suppose, but I'm hoping one day it'll take more than a red New York Yankees cap and a nasty sneer to make a successful band. The one good thing about covering these bands, is that it makes me feel good as a guitarist knowing that I'm pretty much better than most of the rockers on the radio.

Of course, they're hanging out the Playboy Mansion, and I'm cleaning my childrens' playroom... Bitter? Yeah, I suppose...

Anyway, onto the topic of lyrics...

One of the great features of the Muse's Muse message boards is that people can share their new creations - whether they are music or lyrics. In response, you'll usually get a few folks commenting on what they liked, what they didn't like, and what they'd do better. And - as an amateur songwriter - those critiques can be very helpful and it's of course nice to know that there are people out there nice enough to spend a little time "helping a brother out".

That said, I've begun to question the usefulness of critiquing lyrics. It seems that nowadays in order to have a "pitchable" song (which I suppose some folks are shooting for 'round here), you have to have a) rhymes, b) references to love, and c) a verse/chorus/bridge/etc. type structure. That's all fine I suppose, but what sort of bugs me a little is that it also seems that you need to be direct with your subject matter. By that I mean you apparently have to write lyrics so even the dumbest 10% of the zoo population will be able to understand what the message of your song is.

Now, when I was growing up, I listened to records from bands like Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Marillion, and Pink Floyd - all of whom had brilliant (in my opinion) lyricists (Gabriel for Genesis, Fish for Marillion, and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd). Part of the joy of opening a new LP was reading along with the song as you listened, and trying to decipher the meanings behind the symbolism and analogies used in the lyrics. What was the songwriter trying to say? Was I to take his words on a literal level? Or should I read something more ethereal in the words.

To me, lyrics used to be an art form. Now, they seem to be more cut and paste jobs than anything else. For folks who just like to get into the groove with a nice pop song, that's fine. But what happened to the craftsmanship of the older writers? Much like the popular music of the 21st century, the lyrics have been dumbed down and simplified. What happened? When did intelligence and depth lose its luster to be replaced by vanity and simple-mindedness? This the computer age, is it not? Shouldn't we be flexing our cyber-muscles to demand something with a little more substance then yet another three-chord, boy-meets-girl million-seller?

Or are we content letting ourselves throw this generation's music in the same corner as the Rubik's Cube, the Pet Rock, and The Bay City Rollers? Stand up and be counted! Most of the lyrics I've read from Muse contributors are - in my opinion - much better than the dreck on the radio.

Introducing... (drum roll) "Nook Tunes"!!!

Before I go, I'd like to start a "Nook" tradition by suggesting a couple of groovy new discs that I've recently picked up. Now I'm a rock and roller, so my suggestions are only going to reflect that preference (usually). But I invite any of the readers to send in their "hot" discs from any genre, and I'll include them in my next column!

First up is a sort of new release by the band "A Perfect Circle" called The Thirteenth Step. It's a hard rock album from a band fronted by Maynard James Keenan (singer of Tool), and including James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins, and it's a real hard rocker with great melodies and excellent song writing. It's sort of a "Tool-lite"... I've always thought Tool was a bit overrated, so I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked this CD. Definitely worth checking out...

The other CD I'd like to mention is a neo-progressive rock record from a band oddly called "Coheed and Cambria". The CD is titled In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, and it's loosely based on a sci-fi book that is being written by band leader Claudio Sanchez. At first listen, the disc will likely remind you of Canadian power rockers Rush, but after a few more listens... well... they'll still remind you of Rush. High register vocals, GREAT musicianship, and serious rockin' make this a disc for all Rush fans (like myself) a must-have.

That's all from me... don't forget to send in your disc suggestions or your column comments to otteaux@musesmail.com, and stop by the Newbie's Nook on the message board. Later!!!


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