All About Lyrics


Dear Paperlaters:

In one of the recent posts from the always-hilarious Mr. Tegart, he jokingly compared Peter and Phil's lyrics to "...chalk and cheese, festering maggots and dairy ice-cream, rancid excrement and little furry animals curled up in a ball".  Aside from laughing myself silly, I got to thinking about the differences in their lyrical styles myself and was reminded that Peter's lyrical contribution to early Genesis resulted in some disturbing and often grotesque imagery.  Who else would be singing about "gutterflies", cuddling "the porcupine", "fluffy heart" that is "ready for rape", "erogenous zones I love you", "a sickly sourness fills the room", the slipperman with his "slimy lumps", and of course "don't delay, dock the dick!"  All I have to say is I don't particularly enjoy these soundbites, although they may sound mildly funny depending on the mood.  While Tony takes the prize for writing some of the most beautiful lyrics for the band, Peter had almost never written about beauty in the world.  Sometimes I wonder if he was looking through a distorted lens which only allowed him to see ugliness and deceit in everything.

When Peter was not having fun grossing everyone out, he frequently resorted to pseudophilosophical talk and then basked in his own profoundness.  As Rael, he pondered "does earth plug a hole in heaven, or heaven plug a hole in the earth - how wonderful to be so profound, when everything you are is dying underground".  However, my favorite lyrical bits in the Lamb are those where Rael revealed his human side and confessed he was not as strong as he had thought:  "I need someone to believe in, someone to trust".

Finally, I notice that Peter tended to lapse into clever-sounding wordplay that meant nothing at all.  The most obvious example of this would be "Willow Farm".  But he did this fairly regularly in his solo career as well, e.g., the verses of "Games without Frontiers".  In many instances I feel he temporarily lost sight of the point he was trying to convey in the first place.  Clever mumbo-jumbo is just that after all.  Sure he came up with very inventive rhymes, but IMO in the process he sacrificed the actual thought content of the lines.

Phil, being generally considered a less original or ambitious song-writer, mostly sticks to what he does best:  lyrics about relationships, often of a personal nature.  Actually considering the subject he is dealing with, it is nearly impossible for him to be original.  While it is easy to write songs about losing testicles and make it sound original, the same is not the case with writing about love and love loss.  Moreover, Phil uses everyday vocabulary and simple diction that anyone could understand, so a degree of intrigue is largely missing (except for when he was vague such as in ITAT or Take Me Home).  Even so, I agree with Mr. Tegart that a lot of his lyrics pack an emotional punch so powerful that it knocks me out.  I readily admit that when I heard lyrics such as "But everyday I say I'll try to make my heart be still, 'til then every way there is to cry ourselves to sleep, we will", every cell in my body were overcome by a tidal wave of emotion.  My heart skipped a beat or two when I heard these lines:  "I wish I could write a love song to show you the way I feel.  Seems like you don't like to listen, oh but like it or not, take what you've got and leave".  He's got a talent for depicting the bitter-sweetness of it all, unfortunately this is not appreciated by the music critics or the would-be critics among us.  Apparently it is not cool to dissect your own wound and show it to the world, or if you do, at least you are expected to disguise it with enough intellectual rationalization so as not to shock people with your frankness.

While we are on the topic, I want to say something about arguably the major songwriter of Genesis, Anthony Banks.  Tony's lyrics can be incredibly poetic as we all know, but without the "fascinating weirdness" of Peter.  However, what strikes me the most about Tony is the fact that he has always been a very old soul.  Many of his best lyrics were focused on the unstoppable passage of time, the fleeting nature of fame or the insignificance of our lives in the grand scheme of things.  Listen to the deeply-affecting sadness behind such lines:

Like the story that we wish was never ending
We know sometime we must reach the final page
Still we carry on just pretending
That there'll always be another day to go

Far away, away, fading distant lights
Leaving us all behind, lost in a changing world
And you know that these are the days of our lives

Songs like "Fading lights", "Duchess" and "Afterglow" owe part of their appeal to their melancholy overtones.  On the other hand, I can't help but wishing our favorite keyboardist could be a little less pessimistic, and maybe give Genesis another try...

Take care,



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