When Jason Pierce left Spaceman 3 in 1991 he had bigger and more ambitious plans with his musical career.
In his last album with the Spaceman 3, Recurring, Pierce showed some poetic ability but it was not until he began his solo project, Spiritualized, that Pierce truly achieved poetic justice.
While Spiritualized is mainly known for their orchestric, psychedelic melodies, something Pierce took with him from Spaceman 3, the lyrics get substantially more sophisticated each album.
If you’ve listened to any of Pierce’s works you would know that his main theme is love. This is the case in Spiritualized’s first album, Lazer Guided Melodies, and in their eighth and most recent album And Nothing Hurt.
However, over time, Pierce takes love and makes it something more.
This is a verse from ‘Angel Sigh,’ a song on Spiritualized’s first album:
Girl it’s like an angels’ sigh
When I see you walkin’ by
Girl y’know the reason why
Girl y’know the reason why
While Pierce does incorporate an a-b-a-a rhyme scheme and even adds simile into his verse, the reader/listener knows exactly what he is talking about as it stated clearly. A good poet makes a reader think.
On ‘A Perfect Miracle,’ the first song of his 2018 masterpiece And Nothing Hurt shares the same theme as ‘Angel Sigh,’ love, but the lyrics are much more sophisticated and reading or hearing them may transport you to the world Pierce is imagining.
See the difference:
I’d like to sit around and dream you up a perfect miracle
Then take the clouds and have the sun proudly shining on you
Take the stars as well and line them up to spell “Darling, I love you”
And little by little watch it all come true
These lyrics invoke a warm and refreshing feeling. A feeling of hopefulness and loving. A feeling many novelists have tried so hard to transfer to their reader.
If a poem is a compressed novel, than ‘A Perfect Miracle’ is absolutely a poem because of its ability to capture Pierce’s mind and transfer it to the reader/listener who can then connect it to his or her’s own life.
Pierce’s poetic ability in And Nothing Hurt solidifies himself as one of the best songwriters in the world and sets the album apart from any other album of his career.
Most of Kanye West’s songs would be great options for this prompt, and the one I chose just happens to be one of my favorites at the moment. “Homecoming” from Kanye’s Graduation album, may be part of the greatest collection of songs on a single record.
One of Kanye’s greatest strengths as a rapper or a poet, is the way he can manipulate words. He can use the same word multiple times, in one line after another, and they can possess completely different meanings.
But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees” And from that point I never blow her off
I guess that’s why I’m here and I can’t come back home And guess when I heard that? When I was back home
If that isn’t poetic, then I don’t know what is.
Throughout the song, Kanye chooses to develop a story about his relationship with a childhood friend. He compares their relationship to aspects of the city of Chicago to develop a nostalgic tone.
But, my name is Windy and I like to blow trees
And when I grew up she showed me how to go downtown
Knew I was gang affiliated, got on TV and told on me
I guess that’s why last winter she got so cold on me
All of these lines possess notable aspects of Chicago “Windy”, “downtown”, “gang affiliated”, and “winter”. In order to put the listener in his shoes, to appreciate the nostalgic feeling he gets when he thinks about the girl and his hometown. He is trying to get listeners to think about their home town so that they can understand what he feels when he thinks about this girl.
The job of a poet is to give new experiences to audiences. And since Kanye is obviously not utilizing prose, it is safe to say that his music is poetry.
The song that I believe is poetry is Tor Miller’s “The Dirt” on his album American English. In the song, the speaker reminisces about his love for his ex and the feelings that come with seeing her with someone else. The song conveys the experience of still loving someone so strongly even when they’ve moved on. The song follows the story of letting go of someone and not recognizing the person they are when they return.
In the second verse of the song, the artist sings:
And as you fall for some decent man
You place your life into his trembling hands
The purpose of using the word “trembling” conveys the speaker’s nerves towards letting someone else have the heart of the person he loves. The use of the word “decent” shows that the artist is recognizing her new boyfriend as adequate but not as good as he is. The speaker cares for his ex and fears someone else treating her poorly and shattering her heart.
In the chorus of the song, the artist sings:
I’ll be loving you, too
The shadow of your heart, it cuts right through
The imagery of this line shows the audience how intense the love was that the speaker had for his ex. Even if she didn’t break up with him in a harsh way, just her absence in his life is enough to hurt him deeply. The use of “loving” shows that his love for her will always prevail regardless of how far she is from him.
In the bridge of the song, the artist sings:
And when the day comes, you’ve forgotten my name
And I’ve drunk an ocean to try to quell the pain
And in your autumn, when your colours have changed
Your naked branches or your lips don’t feel the same
This stanza of lines shows the speaker trying to cope with the breakup through alcohol. The first two lines show how he’s been yearning for her for so long and she barely remembers him. The speaker remembers her in such a distinct way and is let down when she doesn’t act the same as she did in their relationship. The use of autumn is dimensional as it represents change and decay. While his love for her has been slowly subdued, he can’t recognize the person he loved and pined over for so long.
Tor Miller uses powerful diction, imagery, and metaphors to reveal the deep love he had for his ex that remained through years after their breakup. The meaning of his song is elevated through his choice of language and reveals his true emotions towards her affect on him.
The song “Take Me to Church” By Hozier is part of his Take Me to Church E.P. The song was inspired by the oppresion of the LGBTQ community in Russia. At the time there were anti-gay propaganda laws passed in parliament that suppressed the LGBTQ community for expressing their natural rights in public. In fact, parliament upheld a public display of homosexuality to the same severity of beastiality and pedophelia. As a nation, Russia felt the need to “protect” the children from non-traditional sexuality. Therefore, there was a vast array of attacks by neo nazi gangs.
Hozier’s song focuses on the expression of one’s sexuality and how religious organizations advocate for the suppression of such a natural act. In fact, through the song Hozier expresses that he feels closer to god through sexual acts rather than abiding to organizations or policies that value prejudice.
Towards the beginning of the song, as Hozier introduces the disapproval of the Christian church. He follows this by repeating the statement “I was born sick.” This figurative sickness is mentioned in order to establish the hateful attitude of the church towards the LGBT community. According to the Christian church it is seen as a sin. However, as Hozier repeats the line a second time he states, “I was born sick, but I love it.” He repeats the line in such a way to suggest that he will not support organizations that discriminate the natural act of expressing love for others.
This then leads to the chorus of the song that reads as follows:
“A-amen, amen, amen
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife”
Through the chorus, Hozier uses juxtaposing diction and overall develops his argument through such a contrast. First, the juxtaposing diction is evident especially in the line “I’ll tell you my sins, and you can sharpen your knife.” By structuring the language in such a manner, he continues to develop the idea of oppression. If someone apart of the LGBT community were to express their feelings to the church, they would be faced with immense resentment and possibly violence, as seen through the metaphor of the knife. The whole point of the song is for Hozier to express his disapproval of these oppressive institutions. Therefore, by writing the chorus in a format that sarcastically worships the church, he show the negative effects that would be imposed on someone like him.
Towards the end, Hozier speaks more about the liberation he has found in expressing his identity and loving who he wants. Specifically he states:
“There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin.
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene.
Only then I am human”
Through speaking about an “earthly scene,” Hozier shows that the church would consider homosexual intercourse a sin, however, he sees it as an act of liberation. He uses this portion of the song to sum up his argument. Faced with such hateful events in places like Russia, that don’t allow for expression of natural human acts, he explains how truly satisfying it is to love. Expressing one’s natural human rights and love for another is far more fruitful than worshiping an harsh institution.
“Pure Comedy” is a grandiose satire voiced through perspective of an unhinged, broken skeptic of humanity. The title song is no different, as Father John Misty simplifies the existence of humanity to its most basic core in an almost unbearably nihilistic tone. His tone gives off a sense of superiority, making him a bit unlikable in this song. The satire starts immediately as Misty begins, “The comedy of man starts like this:/ Our brains are way too big for our mother’s hips.” This opening line exhibits satire through the duality of its meaning. While our large brains, and heads by extension, cause birth to be quite painful for the mother, this line also suggests that humanity is too smart for its own good. This line leads into the central idea of the first verse: the satire of early societal structure. Misty starts his idea by stating that “…half of us are periodically iron deficient/ So somebody’s gotta go kill something while I look after the kids/ I’d do it myself, but what, are you going to get this thing its milk?” Misty alludes to early societal structure in hunter-gatherer groups, as the men would often hunt for meat (a strong source of iron) while the women would stay and tend to the children as only they can nurse them.
Today, this structure isn’t needed anymore. Grocery stores hold all the food and nutrition we need to survive, yet women still often are the ones to stay at home. Through describing the process of gathering food to be primitive and basic, Misty makes the idea of raising a child and providing seem backwards.
In the second verse, Misty begins to dismantle Religion in an extremely superficial tone, but he also discusses the hypocrisy and idolization of corporations. When FJM says “They build fortunes poisoning our offspring/ and hand out prizes when someone patents the cure,” he discusses how we are stuck in a cycle of gluttony. The “poison” refers to could be seen as alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes, which when overused, can lead to health issues or death. As a society, we’ve showered these industries with money, and when someone comes up with a cure or solution to a societal issue, we shower them in money as well, creating a cycle of greed and wealth.
The final chorus closes with the irony of survival: “The only thing that seems to make them feel alive/ is the struggle to survive/ but the only thing they request/ is something to numb the pain with.” Humans innately want a challenge to occupy themselves with, but this challenges can easily become overwhelming. This can result in substance abuse to simply carry on. This song is certainly poetic, but I’ve always found it difficult to truly enjoy due to the larger-than-life FJM seems to project. The song, while insightful at times, is almost consistently pessimistic and depressing.
All Falls Down, written and produced by Kanye West, was the third single off Kanye’s 2004 album, The College Dropout. You can find the lyrics to the song right here.
All Falls Down was Kanye’s attempt at poking fun at the concepts of materialism and consumerism, and he did exactly that. Not only is Kanye mocking the world’s obsession with designer items and luxurious-looking lives, but he is recognizing his own struggle with materialism and how he has dealt with it. Alternatively, this song represents Kanye’s view of a flawed society and how a higher education may receive more hype than it deserves. When Kanye raps “Man I promise, she’s so self conscious — she has no idea what she’s doing in college”, he’s self-reflecting his own issue of self-consciousness and insecurities. This piece of multi-dimensional language serves to show his inner battle with materialism, but it also shows the consequences of straying away from what society might expect or want from an individual (college, or a higher education).
The hook of the song, “Oh when it all, it all falls down — I’m telling you oh, it all falls down”, encourages the reader to visualize a life without material possessions. The idea of everything “falling down” is repeated many times and weaved throughout the song, displaying the importance of finding meaning in your life behind the walls of materialism. When Kanye states “It seems we living the American dream — But the people highest up got the lowest self esteem”, his lyrics are representative of the meaninglessness of being the “highest up”, or the most successful and/or rich, when compared to the value of self-security and non-material pleasures in life. Throughout the song, Kanye uses imagery to depict the struggle of a young woman dealing with the thought of going to college and being materialistic, but what he is really showing is his own insecurities and hopes of society being a different way.
“Obsessions” is the debut single of singer-songwriter Marina Diamandis, formerly known by the stage name Marina and the Diamonds and currently known by the stage name MARINA. It also appears on her debut album, The Family Jewels. In the song, a speaker, who seems to suffer symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compares the impact a toxic romantic partner has on her life to the impact her own disordered thoughts have on it. By keeping the line between the demands of the speaker’s partner and the demands of the speaker’s own obsessive thoughts ambiguous through various literary techniques such as shifting point of view and diction with multiple connotations, the song explores how an unstable mental state and an unstable romantic relationship can feed into each other.
The song begins by setting the occasion: the speaker waking up in the morning after a night spent with a romantic partner. The singing is soft, slow, and deceptively gentle as the speaker describes the moment: “Sunday, wake up, give me a cigarette/Last night’s love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed/Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm.” However, it quickly slips into a much more rapid tempo as Diamandis drops the pitch of her voice significantly, as if to imitate a male one, and sings, “Won’t you quit your crying? I can’t sleep.” In this line, the point of view of the song seems to shift briefly to that of the original speaker’s male partner and the occasion seems to flash back to the previous night, as the original speaker is crying and her angry partner displays no sympathy. While some of the prior lyrics hinted at the issues to come later in the song, this line is the first one in which the audience realizes that the relationship in the song is one characterized by conflict and unhappiness. This becomes absolutely clear in the next line, which is back in Diamandis’ normal voice, the voice of the original and primary speaker: “One minute I’m a little sweetheart/And next minute you are an absolute creep.”
In the next verse (I’ll come back to the chorus later), with the toxic, hot-and-cold nature of the relationship established, the song begins to explore the mental instability of the speaker. With an increasingly frenzied pace and repetition of harsh consonant sounds, the song describes the speaker going to a grocery store and being unable to pick out a box of crackers because she is so paranoid that there might be something wrong with one of them:
Supermarket, oh what packet of crackers to pick?
They’re all the same, one brand, one name, but really they’re not
Look, look, just choose something quick
People are staring, time ticker-quicking
Skin is on fire; just choose something, something, something
In this verse, the panic of the speaker is conveyed through the repetition of harsh consonant sounds, especially the “k” sound (as in supermarket, packet, crackers, pick, look, quick, ticker-quicking, skin). These sounds heighten tension by being so abrupt, almost evoking through their sharp yet gutteral sound the noise of somebody choking, as if the speaker is struggling to breathe smoothly. Words are repeated as well (particularly “look” and “something”), intensifying the sense of the speaker being “stuck” and unable to move on enough to even find new words, let alone take action and choose a box of crackers. This verse poignantly conveys the extent to which the speaker is debilitated by irrational and anxious thoughts.
Once the audience is aware of the two main conflicts in the song, the unhealthy romantic relationship and the speaker’s unstable mental state, it becomes clear how these issues play into each other. One way in which the song demonstrates this is through multilayered diction. For example, there is a great deal of diction that connotes common symptoms of OCD, such as a fear of germs and contamination. This diction is often used in reference to the speaker’s romantic partner, giving the impression that the speaker’s partner is the source of many of her intrusive, unpleasant thoughts. In the first chorus, the speaker says, “I want to wipe out all the sad ideas/That come to me when I am holding you.” The word “wipe” connotes cleaning. Excessive cleaning can be a compulsion for some people with OCD, who may use it to ease negative, fearful thoughts about germs or disease that will not go away. However, the speaker in this song wishes to ease the negative thoughts that are a direct result of her relationship (they appear when, as she says, “I am holding you”–when she is physical contact with her partner). The speaker also uses diction that evokes bugs, germs and disease when referring to her partner, such as “creep,” “sick,” and “weak.” It is almost as if she obsessively fears her partner the way certain people with OCD might obsessively fear germs.
Diction is not the only tool used to show the link between the speaker’s romantic relationship and her mental state. The song also uses imagery and contrast, particularly in the line, “Silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate, tongue warm.“ In this line, the cool, clean feelings evoked by the beginning section (“silk sheet, blue dawn, Colgate”) contrasts with the squidgy tactile imagery evoked by “tongue warm.” It is as if the crisp cleanness of the beginning of the line is ruined by a messy, human aspect, as symbolized by an actual human body part. Interestingly, it is unclear whether the speaker is referring to the feeling of her own tongue or her partner’s (don’t worry, I’m not going to get too graphic here). It could be either her own issues or the presence of her partner that ruins her desired cleanness and perfection.
This is not the only instance in which the speaker leaves it unclear which of her issues stem from her relationship and which are entirely her own. She also uses diction that connotes germs and illness when referring to her own thoughts without mentioning her partner, such as when she says, “I want to erase every nasty thought/That bugs me every day of every week.” In this line, she admits that her thoughts are “nasty” and “bug” her. These words connote contamination of sorts (germs are gross and “nasty” and can also be referred to as “bugs,” as in a “stomach bug”). However, the speaker does not specify what sort of “nasty” thoughts she is having, only that they bother her and she feels she cannot get away from them (as is made especially obvious by repetition of the word “every”). It is unclear whether or not these thoughts have anything to do with her partner. Likewise, it is unclear whether the speaker’s breakdown in the grocery store in the second verse has anything to do with pressure being put on her by her partner or simply her own issues, as it is ambiguous whether lines such as “Look, look, just choose something quick/People are staring…” are spoken by the primary speaker to herself or her partner to her.
Another way the song uses ambiguity is the fact that the speaker leaves it unclear which party in the relationship–herself or her partner–is more troubled. In the first chorus, she says, “We’ve got obsessions/All you ever think about are sick ideas/Involving me, involving you.” By using the first person plural, the speaker shows that both herself and her partner suffer from upsetting, inescapable thoughts. When she says, “All you ever think about are sick ideas/Involving me, involving you,” she hints that her partner (“you”) may suffer symptoms of OCD as well, particularly constant intrusive thoughts with disturbing sexual or violent content. However, another way this line could be interpreted is the speaker is fearful that her partner will harm her in some way, an interpretation supported by when she calls him a “creep” earlier in the song.
One final set of lines that heightens the ambiguity of the song is when the speaker says, “Can’t let your cold heart be free/When you act like you’ve got an OCD.” In this line, it is unclear whether she is talking to herself or to her partner, as both of them seem to have issues letting go of control and letting their hearts be “free.” However, it interests me that she says whoever she is speaking to acts “like they have an OCD,” suggesting they do not actually suffer from OCD, they merely act like they do. This could be interpreted to mean that the people in the song would be mentally healthy if not for the toxic relationship they are in. However, it is also true that there are a wide range of mental disorders and even non-disordered patterns of thinking that share some similarities to aspects of OCD, and the fact that the speaker and her partner have obsessive thoughts does not mean they have actual OCD. So they might have issues completely outside of the relationship as well, just not clinically diagnosed OCD.
Overall, it is clear that the primary speaker in the song has mental health issues of her own, but it is also clear that her relationship is an unhappy one. The song keeps it purposefully ambiguous the extent to which the relationship is exacerbating her issues and the extent to which her poor mental health is harming her relationship. I believe this is on purpose, as these lines are not always so clear in real life either. Our relationships, if toxic, can hurt us, but our own personal issues can also contribute to the toxicity of those relationships.