Abstract lyrics are akin to abstract art. With both, the viewer or listener decides what they see or hear.
I’m not really a lyric connoisseur and words are almost always secondary to the melody and music of a song, for me. I was and am a fan of some Nirvana music, mostly because Cobain was a pretty good songwriter and they brought something fresh (not necessarily new) and slightly unique to the scene at that time. There was nothing special at all about their technical prowess but there was an artistry that Cobain had with creating certain atmospheres and moods in his songs. Some of the lyrics seemed pretty bad though …But, some of the lyrics have a really cool, poetic ring to them, even if they don’t make sense to most of us.
What do these words mean?
Smells Like Teen Spirit
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino,
A mosquito, my libido
At the end at the end of the song he’s belting out “The denial, the denial”, repeatedly. I like the anger, aggression, angst and something that almost feels like suffering and pain. I liked the song from the very first time I heard it ,but it was almost entirely because I loved the chorus melody, attitude and groove of the music. I really disliked the verse…and I still think the verse is very mediocre. Yet I love the song because I’ve grown accustomed to the verse and I’m “OK” with it, but the chorus is such an enormous pay off. The lyrics sound a bit like the ravings of a madman but I could easily say to myself, “These lyrics are about teenage angst, outrage and rebellion”, even though there’s no way of knowing that for sure. It’s like looking at clouds in the sky. Everyone can see whatever their imagination shows them.
A few years ago I was writing some songs and I had the vocal melodies, the music and much of the songs fleshed out, but I had only a few lines of lyrics for each song. I mentioned to my brother that I needed to sit down and really focus on writing the lyrics before recording the songs and I mentioned to him that I really disliked the lyric writing process because I had to tell a logical “story” or I had to make sense of what I was trying to depict. Within the confines of a song, if you’ve already determined the melodic and rhythmic structure of your vocal lines, then you have to create lyrics that work within that architecture. I almost always create vocal melody and rhythmic structure before writing words/ lyrics, so it takes quite a bit of time for me to find lyrics that are suitable and not laughable. Often I’ll write what I call “ghost lyrics” to use in the meantime , until I’ve found good or decent words for the final product. The ghost lyrics are often ridiculous, although occasionally I hit on something that is good. Anyway, my brother suggested that I write abstract lyrics. His way of thinking is that the listener will create their own meaning to the song. We all do that to some degree anyway, even in songs that are concise and direct. Everyone seems to interpret things a bit differently…, they hear what they want to hear. BTW, my brother likes quite a few Nirvana lyrics, so he does enjoy that kind of abstract lyric. I actually like some of it too…but as I said, I’m not a lyric connoisseur.
My view on abstract lyrics is pretty much the same as my view on vulgar and explicit lyrics. They’re both part of the enormous spectrum of creativity, and for me, they need to be explored and possibly incorporated to some degree. I do the same with scales, genres, textures, attitudes, grooves, musical colours, etc…All of these things are part of the artists palette. Everything is worth exploring. We don’t know what we may find if we don’t venture out of our comfort zone. It may be that we find a landfill of garbage or a goldmine of hidden treasures…Probably a bit of both.