There’s this Loud Family song that’s been stuck in my head off and on for weeks now. Itâs called “Not Expecting Both Contempo and Classique,” and it starts thus:
Admiring paper on my wall
How many really take the time?
There may not seem that much creative latitude
But that’s the challenge of design
The curves intuitively know
Which aspects of nouveau to save
Without succumbing to the full devouring will
Of Aubrey Beardsley in his grave
I’m not expecting that I’ll end up with you just because I need to…
Now. Compare this to the song “Flowers On the Wall” by the Statler Brothers (which I assume the Loud Family song is referencing):
Counting flowers on the wall
That don’t bother me at all…
You may notice the main difference between the two songs. The Statler Brothers dispatch with the “staring at the wall” experience in two lines — while the Loud Family spends an entire two verses exploring it. Itâs not ’til the chorus that they even touch on the lonely-sad-love-song stuff.
Why do I like this?
I like this for a couple of reasons. And it’s not just the fact that they worked Aubrey Beardsley into a pop song. I like it because it actually conveys the experience it’s referring to, instead of just referring to it. I mean, whenever I’m staring at the wallpaper in a blue funk, I’m not just staring blankly — I have long, elaborate thought processes about the wallpaper pattern. Mine tend not to be reflections on design and design history — they tend instead to focus on the details of the geometric patterns, with obsessive-compulsive-ish ruminations about how well the panels of paper do or don’t join up. But I do get completely lost in morbidly detailed thoughts about the actual wallpaper itself. And by spending two entire verses closely examining the experience of staring at wallpaper — by “really taking the time” — that’s what these verses get across.
Perhaps more importantly, I like how non-generic it is. So many pop songs — especially pop songs about love — try to connect with the audience by making their lyrics as general and lowest-common-denominator as possible. “I’m in love and I’m happy,” “He/she doesn’t love me and I’m sad.” Everyone knows how that feels, right?
But I don’t think that works. One of the great paradoxes of art is that you often make a better connection with your audience by making your detail more specific rather than less. Detail is one of the best ways to make an experience seem more vivid, more real. Even if the audience can’t identify with those specific details, the details make it easier to feel what the artist is feeling — and to find the similar feeling in yourself. When lyrics are generic, of course you can identify with them — but the connection is shallow, and you forget about it five minutes later. (Obviously you can go too far in the other direction with self-absorbed navel-gazing… but even that’s usually more interesting than “My boyfriend left me and I’m sad.”)
Also, the Loud Family just rocks. They’re one of those rare pop bands that can walk the slender balance beam between smart art and fun accessibility: between music you can listen to closely with serious attention and deep satisfaction, and music you can happily bench-press to when it comes up on your shuffle at the gym. If you haven’t already, check them out.