Certain bands (not to mention opera singers) claim to write or sing without understanding their own lyrics. They just use the words in a string against music and make it all sound good. They use words, in short, the way a musician uses hands on instruments: to convey a message that is ultimately sound.

Who wants to read a Rolling Stones album? Not me. I'll listen to Beggars Banquet a million times and rarely if ever will I read it. The Stones are not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of making it hard to understand lyrics by slurring, and the like. And Mick definitely slurs.

Cocteau Twins are the most obvious indie English-language example I can think of in terms of rock musicians shunning narrative, storytelling, or obviously context-having lyrics. There's no real need to parse Frou Frou Foxes...is there?

If you read this, you may never bother to check out the track which is, by the by, beautiful if nonsensical in terms of English.

More examples where I think the lyrics don't matter so much:

1) REM uses plenty of nonsensical English

2) Sometimes, The Beatles, who trick you into thinking everything's more of a metaphor than it is (Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds).

3) Nouvelle Vague, the fabulous French pop group, sings modern rock from the U.S. without understanding it much, beyond the melody (so the legend goes). Results = loungey delicious versions of Guns of Brixton (The Clash) and Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division).

4) Leo Kottke has no problem singing about snort-forks one minute (WTF is a snort-fork?) and telling little, obvious stories the next.

5) TONS of party music. TONS of art rock. (Spank Rock "Far Left," and "Bump" OR lots of Deerhoof stuff)


I'm not trying to say that you should overlook lyrical content altogether. Some songs stand up and says, "hey i'm an incredible story or poem as well as a decent tune." They should be paid attention to, given credit on the merit of both their musical and narrative worth, and on the merit of the integration of the two art forms. (Bob Dylan's "Hurricane," and your Mighty Sparrow's "Russian Satellite," along with almost everything from Tom Waits, and De La Soul come to mind immediately, and this list could go on forever if I tried so maybe I'll just go to bed soon instead, counting those particularly sweet sounding sheep.)

Conclusion: Bad ass as Bob Dylan is with a pen and a six-stringer, I'm not going to deny other musicians the right to sound great, without pretending to be authors too.

So quit worrying about catching every last word. Unless you're going to sing the songs in public. If that is the case, I like sing365.com as a little reference.