Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I'm not sure whether it was Jens Lekman, Andy Bull, Sean Lennon or Liam Finn who identified the songwriting principle: in simple terms, the most compelling pop songs often pair sad words with happy melodies (and vice versa). The principle (much like the citation) is vague, but I like it. I like that idea of incongruence, that lyrical meaning can be sufficiently disguised by sound. That, and it's intriguing to think that the expression of melancholy can somehow lead to the most fun and liberating of pop anthems. They are the kinds of songs that make you shriek, grab your friends and run to the dancefloor.

This songwriting principle can be identified in many, if not most musical genres. Arguably, that incongruence is at its most compelling in Powerpop, those one-off 7" singles from the early 1980s. The genre is dominated by teenage boys, begging for a place in your heart (as per Protex) or else, one more chance (as per The VIPs). They express jealousy (Jilted John), loneliness (The Letters) and confusion (The Buzzcocks). Adolescent anxiety is relatively commonplace, but it's surprising to hear such visceral expressions of vulnerability paired with frantic drums, jangly Rickenbackers and upbeat, catchy vocals. It's all terribly heartbreaking, but due to its shiny sheen, you need never realise it.

When you do listen closely, you wonder how the adolescent anxiety resolved itself. Their stories of hope and loss remain untapped and unfinished: they will exist as lovelorn seventeen-year-olds forever. You listen to the scenarios they describe and you hope, thirty years on, that it all worked out somehow. For me, I hope that the writing of such songs brought about some sense of clarity. I hope that when it all went down in the suburbs of London and Los Angeles, it was vindicating to have strangers dancing at gigs, singing along and relating intimately to every word.

I don't want to be alive when I'm 25...

It's that very idea, the idea of a crowd singing along and relating to these lyrics which eases that disparity between the so-called happy music and sad lyrics. No matter what the lyrical content, whether it be heartbreak, grief or sadness, there is is a unique happiness associated with finding something which carries a high degree of personal resonance. There is a certain glory associated with singing those relevant words. Singing it out loud provides an implicit kind of solace, that no matter what the hardship, there is always that capacity to connect and recover.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Powerpop Podcast #48
Protex - A Place in Your Heart
The Romantics - What I Like About You
The VIPs - One More Chance
The Times - I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape
The Really 3rds - Everyday, Everyway
Direct Hits - From the Underworld
Mood Six - What Have You Ever Done?
The Rubinoos - I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend
The Bureaucrats - Feel the Pain
The Numbers - 77 Sunset Strip

Download (49.2 MB)

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