How terrible do lyrics have to be to completely ruin a song?

As an avid metal head, I am constantly waiting for new releases by some of my favorite metal bands. So imagine how excited I was when I heard that Testament, one of the great Bay Area thrash metal bands, was getting ready to debut their newest album. Their previous album, The Formation of Damnation, ranks among one of my favorite albums of the last decade.  So imagine this: I’m sitting at home just screwing around on the internet, and BAM, I come across the first single from the new album. Imagine for a moment that you just found out that you just got a new puppy for Christmas and multiply it by a million. That is how excited I was.

Screaming blonde child

Kind of like this, but way less cute.  And with a lot more facial hair. 

So, I start listening to the single “Native Blood.” Let me take you through my thought process as I took my first listen. HOLY HELL, THIS IS AWESOME! THE GUITARS AND THE DRUMS ARE AGGRESSIVE, THIS IS AWESOME…..wait what did Chuck Billy just say? Yeah… Chuck Billy, one of the better vocalists out there, uttered one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard in a metal song.  And yeah, there are some stupid metal lyrics out there. The lyrics start off with these lines:

“Whenever I stumble, whenever I fall

Whenever I’m pushed against the wall

This white man’s world won’t tell me what to do.”

Uhhhh…..what? Seriously, Chuck Billy, are you really going to start a song like this? I don’t know if it occurs to anyone, but playing the “blame the white man card” right off the bat is a little crazy. At first I thought, maybe, it fits in the context of the song. Well, no. No, it doesn’t. The rest of the song plays like an angst filled teenager screaming how awesome he is and how he’ll rebel against the world. According to interviews I’ve read, Chuck Billy claims he wrote this song to represent and celebrate his Native American heritage. ‘Cause nothing celebrates one’s heritage like screaming these gems of lyrics: “Cross my path and get what you deserve,” “I’m warning this world to stay out of my way,” and “Not afraid to throw the first punch, I’m never wrong, I’m always right.”  Chuck, you know you’re 50, right?

Pointed fingers

Why are you trying to relate to this?

The really sad part of it all is that “Native Blood” genuinely has all the makings of a great song. The guitars, drums, and bass all work together to create an audio assault with enough melody and heaviness to please any metal fan. Hell, even Chuck’s delivery of the vocals fits the song. The problem is you have to not be thinking about the lyrics at all. Because once you think about it, you lose all respect for the song.  Then again, it’s not like it’s the only song in the genre with horrible lyrics. There are other offenders out there.

But, in general, where do you draw the line? At what point does a song become so unbearable because the lyrics are god awful? I’ve been subjected to some terrible songs in my time, thanks to the cruelty of my friends, whom I will not name.  “Call Me Maybe” is a recent offender, and I don’t need to say anything about the lyrics that haven’t already been said before. The problem is that a lot of these songs get airtime and become ridiculously popular, and it makes you wonder how people can even stand the lyrics. Maybe I’m missing the point on some of these songs, and their purpose lies in more of the pure entertainment and club stuff.  Maybe people just like to make fun of how bad the lyrics are but continue to listen because of other aspects of the song.  Or perhaps people don’t put as much emphasis on the lyrics as I do.

As I have gotten older, I found that I want more substance in the music I listen to. I’m looking for a song that either contains more complex and interesting instrumental parts or has lyrics that have some kind of meaning or beauty to them.  I know it may be a lot to ask for from some bands, but some bands work their asses off, though that doesn’t mean that they always deliver. As of now, maybe I am a lyrics snob. Honestly, I don’t care. Music by its very nature is subjective. As a person, you have your own rights to define what you think is good and what is bad. So objectively, would it matter if you liked a song like “Native Blood” or “Call Me Maybe”? No not all. But I am still going to judge you (and the song) silently.

meme

My opinion of you has forever changed.

-Vijay Maharaj

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About BentleyWritingCenter

This is the official blog of the Bentley University Writing Center staff.
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