FEATURE: Modern Songwriting: All You Need Is Love?



Modern Songwriting: All You Need Is Love?


THAT seems like a question with a rather simple answer but…

IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles (1967)/PHOTO CREDIT: David Magnus

in terms of music: is the subject of love being run dry?! The reason I raise the point is because, it seems, songwriting is becoming very limited and homogenised - certainty in the mainstream. I know there are plenty of artists who take the focus elsewhere but I feel too many rely on relationships and their own concerns to get people listening. I understand that adage of writing about what you know: if you are too out-there or step into uncharted territory – as a new artist, it can be hazardous and foolhardy. It is depressing seeing so many established artist fail to push beyond the obvious and really engage with the outside world. I am listening to albums at the moment – Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit and Arcade Fire’s Everything Now – that tackles the world at large and issues around society, materialism and the media. There are songs about politics, social media and rivalry – very little concerning relationships and gripes. I guess, genres like Grime and Rap, are more synonymous with social commentary. There is braggadocio and a sense of confidence: songs tend to look outward and are less concerned with traditional themes. Even when the best of the mainstream speak about love; it is done with a lot more wit and originality than most. I am a bit bored seeing the same songs about guilty partners and the sorrow of heartbreak. It sounds heartless but it is one of those subjects that has been exhausted and covered for decades. Go back to the early-1960s and bands like The Beatles presented love in rather charming and innocent terms. Later albums looked at relationships with a mix of the caustic and impassioned. Even when the world’s finest band were at their height; they were never compromising and, when singing of love, brought new dimensions and possibilities to it. Now, these many years down the line, it seems talking of love has reached a sort of plateau. I feel, if you are going to assess a breakup or romance, to be cautious and present it with some sort of variation and new angle. It is all well writing about something that personal but avoiding cliché lyrics and tropes is essential.


I guess it is the making of the mainstream and Pop that leads me to this anger. I am willing to embrace these artists but their palette and imagination is so moulded and aimed at the teen market – there is little manoeuvrability for anything apart from love and relations. I feel, if one is going to write about love, at least set your sights a bit wider. Some of the greatest songs have been about love but, in truth, how easy it is mining gold from an area that, over the decades, has been well represented?! I get a little weary when I get sent songs that talk of broken hearts and the imbalance in relationships. The best artists, many I have recently reviewed, take relations and give them new dynamics. From Sasha Brown’s Parallel to Polar Eyes (reviewed today) – it is possible to stick with tradition but sprinkle something unique and interesting in. I find, especially now, some of the best albums hardly touch upon love. Perhaps my inexperience in the area - relationships and writing about them – has created subjectiveness but, if an artist relies too heavily on ‘easy answers’, it creates something stodgy and formulaic. Yes, created a couple of tracks about a relationship – whether good or bad – but move on. The emotion of love is a powerful thing and – to answer the question I set in the header – we should be using it to add colour and passion to problems in the world. I come across artists who are thankful for life and every moment; the good that is out there and how the positive outweighs the negative. Even if one does not have that mindset – and is a glass-half-full type – there are avenues they can explore. If you are coming straight into music, there is that difficulty understanding what the market wants and the type of song that will capture the heart. It is too tempting going to the relationship well and writing about that. Even if you are not going through a split; I am seeing lots of artists still writing about that topic – coming from a fictional viewpoint. It seems the mass market and mainstream is misleading a lot of artists.


I feel getting away from that pre-teen demographic is something that needs to be done in order for music to evolve and grow. All the times you get a guitar-wielding act singing about their girl/boy and the pain of being dumped – it can get very angering and plodding. Even when one hears a positive and happy love song: it is still very personal and not that likely to engage and hold many past the initial listener. I agree, if one gets the recipe right, it can lead to something incredible and transformative. For every artist that gets close to something spellbinding: there are dozens that write something asinine, bland and empty. Love, as I said, is a powerful weapon that should not be messed with. I guess everyone has to face the painful sting of a break-up but that does not mean it needs to go down in music. Most people are just as able to relate to any other subject other than love – the assumption being relationships are the most common currency and, therefore, the most profitable. Give the events that have transpired and unfolded the last few months: why not write about them and apply something uplifting and positive to that?! The fact the British people have shown resolve and strong souls – after terrorist attacks and political divisions – is an area that is ripe for representation. Hearing an album like Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit and it appears the Grime king is still not bothered about petty relationships and moaning. His flows are as ice-cool and gifted as back on his debut. He is one of the most assured and talented rappers around. Always intelligent, sharp and on-point. Other genres have different sounds but my point is someone like Dizzee has a broad set of inspirations: the people around him and technology taking over; the competition dissing him and Britain’s changing face. There are moments of humour and savagery: wicked put-downs and moments of genuine introspection. As such, one gets an original and deep album. I mentioned Arcade Fire and their forthcoming, Everything Now. That has a social, political and wide-ranging mentality that, unsurprisingly, is seeing critics drool and hyperventilate with delight.


The only way music is going to remain compelling and evolving is it is kept broad and surprising. We need that core of love/relationships but it seems too many mainstream and new artists fall back on it – and rely on it as their staple. The world is a complex, ever-changing and inspiring that provides endless lexicon and seduction for songwriters. Few are getting out their torches and searching beyond their own bedroom. I hardly think it is coincidence the best albums being created right now are talking about what is going on in the world and issues that are much deeper than individual relationship – or, at the very least, showing a more broad-minded and interesting approach to songwriting. Many of those legendary and historic albums – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours among them – talked of love and its intricacies and complexities. People get it into their head they can create something as profound or the people want to hear that all the time. The world has changed and music is a way of taking people to new places – introducing them to new themes and possibilities. If a songwriter cannot get past the bedroom door and seeks sympathy; stressing and casting blame to their former lovers – it can be quite unnerving and uncomfortable for the listener. The love song is a good way to connect with listeners and display empathy – find common-ground and speak to them. For those, like myself, who have not gone through a break-up; that kind of music can get cloying and overly-familiar. Maybe I cannot understand the pains and fall-out from a split but, to be honest, I don’t really need to. I approach music as a way of learning about an artist and what makes them tick. If that is failed romance or the joys of love then good for them. I want to discover more and have my imagination and mind nourished. The best and most memorable songs are those that take my surprise and take my thoughts in new and wonderful directions. For every God Only Knows there are thousand of wannabe songwriters who are creating songs a-hundredth as affecting and special. I am not down on love but know it is a potent and universal sensation that has a lot more malleability and profitability than most artists give it credit for. Get out of that mainstream quicksand and do not be afraid to take risks with songwriting. Later, I am writing a piece that looks at those critic-proof albums: those near-perfect that are immune to detraction. Most on the list earn this honour because they are original and timeless. If you are too concerned with your own thoughts and relations: how likely will the music succeed and delight years from now?! Love is something destructive and wonderful; it is capable of lifting souls and changing lives. It can be enigmatic and simple; it can take various guises and come when you least expect it. As much as anything, it is a nimble beast that has the eagerness and fuel to tread new ground and venture into wonderful music side-streets. The finest artists understand this but there is a growing mass that seems unwilling to bend against ‘convention’. Love is a very powerful and wonderful thing so, when it comes to songwriting, why don’t we…


MAKE the most of every drop?!