This time I’m mad…
It’s a fairly well known fact that The Beatles used the word ‘Love’ somewhere between 485 and 613 times in their lyrics (nobody could be arsed to count properly) which is higher than the number of songs they actually wrote. They can get away with it A) because they invented pop music as we know it and so were the first to really use it, and B) they never really get the credit for their inventive lyrics, they were subtle in a pop song in a way that Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle’ is not, despite almost saying the same thing (does anyone realise the filth hiding in the lyrics of ‘Please Please Me‘).
The reason I bring this up is because I’ve finally reached the end of my tether with the use of the word ‘Love’ in current music. Note that I didn’t say ‘pop music’. I don’t give any sort of a fuck whether Rihanna ‘found love in a hopeless place’ (or as my brother like to think of it ‘homeless place’, in a tribute to hobo love), because she’s a pop artist. No one’s seriously claiming that it’s being done for emotional depth (apart from Rihanna herself). What really grinds my gears is when modern bands trying to step into the less disposable rock world use this word as a lynchpin for their really ‘deep’ songs. The ones that seem to have real people moved to tears and screaming how meaningful and ‘inspiring’ the lyrics are. Well go fuck a duck.
A general and pretty practical rule for any sort of art is this principle that I have made up. In order for Art to be meaningful it either has to say something new, or say something old in a new way. It’s very simple and very effective. The former can be seen in acts like The Sex Pistols, Radiohead, The Velvet Underground or Gil Scott-Heron, while the latter has been recently achieved with songs like ‘Crown of Love’ by Arcade Fire, ‘Tessellate’ by Alt-J or ‘Wandering Star’ by Poliça.
It’s a shame that so many modern bands seem to run against this idea. By far the worst offenders are Mumford and Sons. A fairly popular hipster conspiracy theory is that Mumford and Sons are the soundtrack the to the Lib-Con Coalition, in that somehow they have the popular vote, they all seem like a bunch of wankers and we won’t see the back of them for upward of three more years. But the most annoying thing about them, far more than every song sounding the same, more than the fucking banjos, more than even the fact that, in the words of Drowned in Sound ‘Mumford & Sons are to folk what Nickelback are to grunge’, is their pseudo-meaningful lyrics. I’m going to post a few select quotes of their lyrics about ‘Love’ and see if you can refrain from groaning at the simultaneous meaninglessness and sheer blandness of them.
‘Love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, It will set you free’
‘And my head told my heart “Let love grow”‘
‘And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.’
‘Love was kind, for a time, Now just aches, and it makes me blind’
‘I know that’s what you love, Cause you know I love the same’
‘Wanting change but loving her just as she lies Is the burden of the man who’s build his life on love’
‘Casting love on me as if it were a spell I could not break’
‘Where you invest your love, you invest your life’
Well if you’re not asleep, I should just say, these aren’t even the worst Mumford lyrics. There are far worse ones (I’m looking at you ‘I Will Wait’), but I’ve spared them for clarity’s sake. Under this band, the word that was the bedrock to The Beatles, has become completely meaningless. There’s no complexity, no depth, none of the gut-wrenching power of lyrics like Alt-J’s ‘Breezeblocks‘ or Cat Power’s ‘Colour and the Kids‘, which both use ‘Love’ to killer effect. This is bad art, in every sense. It’s saying what other people have said before and have said better. If ‘All You Need Is Love’ was true, once upon a time then these modern bands need to go the opposite route, and give the word a rest for a couple of years. Hopefully when it returns it can have meaning once again.
I’ll leave the last Mumford word to the legend that is Mark E. Smith, and you should know that name if you even want to start thinking about lyrics: “We were playing a festival in Dublin the other week. There was this other group like, warming up in the next sort of chalet, and they were terrible. I said ‘shut them cunts up’ and they were still warming up, so I threw a bottle at them. The band said ‘that’s the Sons of Mumford’ or something, ‘they’re number five in charts!’ I just thought they were a load of retarded Irish folk singers.”
Oh and the title of this article, ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ is taken from a a set of short stories by Raymond Carver, who is the perfect place to start if you want to read something incredibly powerful, in a short time, and about Love.