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Musicians: Stop Spewing The Same Stories

20/10/2016 16:09

There are only seven types of story in the world. And thanks to the books we read, and the films and TV shows we watch, we've experienced them all hundreds of times.

As proposed by Christopher Booker, author of The Seven Basic Plots, these familiar narratives include:

1. Overcoming the monster (Beowulf, Dracula, War of the Worlds)
2. Rags to riches (Aladdin, Cinderella, Great Expectations)
3. The quest (Watership Down, The Lord Of The Rings, The Land Before Time)
4. Voyage and return (Peter Rabbit, Apollo 13, Finding Nemo)
5. Comedy (Bridget Jones' Diary, Sliding Doors, Mr Bean)
6. Tragedy (Macbeth, Breaking Bad, Bonnie and Clyde)
7. Rebirth (Beauty and the Beast, Despicable Me, A Christmas Carol)

But that's not to say they've become boring or predictable.

Every day, writers, directors and special effects artists find new ways to distort and breathe fresh life into these seven established narrative structures - sometimes tactfully disguising a tragedy as a quest, or a rebirth as the overcoming of a monster.

But are today's musicians managing to keep lyrical narratives fresh? Or are they behaving more like stuck records with a wads of chewing gum wedged in their turntables?

Frank Zappa, the late moustachioed fret-ripper, is widely respected for his unconventional music and lyrics. In an interview with Dave Rothman (Oui magazine) in 1979, he challenged the fact that so many bands kept churning out the same sorts of song, over and over again.

"...people only hear one kind of music all the time over the radio. It's wallpaper to their lives. Audile wallpaper. There's one acceptable beat and there are three acceptable chord progressions. There are five acceptable words: baby, love, tears, yat yat."

Variety in the music industry has come a long way since the 1970s mainstream Zappa references here. In fact, with due credit to the likes of Rick Rubin (producer for artists including Slayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Eminem, System of a Down, Joe Strummer, and many more) it's now super diverse. But you can still pretty much assume themes by genre.

Rappers sing about hos, making money, and how other rappers ain't doing it right and should get back to rappin about real shit, yo.

Divas sing either about being pants-floodingly in love, or about being badass gals who don't need no man.

Boy bands sing about babes who are captivatingly quirky, who are all the babelier for not knowing how babely they are.

Death metal bands sing about... death.

And the predictability continues.

But hope is not lost. Recently my want for non-wallpaper-esque narratives was revitalised by the music of Kid Cooper Levy. His catchy tune, A Chicken and a Vegetable, is a unique love story involving a domesticated fowl and a consumable plant whose faces are smooshed together by the hands of God.

"When God's hands shove our faces together,
it's like nothing is better
When God's hands pull our faces apart, it's like breaking in and breaking my heart.

We fall in love; A chicken and a vegetable."

Other themes on his upcoming record, 'Enter the Tainment', include a baker's dozen that couldn't be evenly divided, listening to chocolate over the telephone and 'How To Write A Personal'.

As is the case with Levy's music, lyrics should tell stories that captivate us. New stories we haven't heard eighty billion times before. I know the 'baby, our relationship is a mess but I still can't stop boning you' spiel. It's on national radio every four minutes.

I want a different kind of journey. And Kid Cooper Levy is an exemplary act, sat at the wheel of a massive bus full of empty seats, waiting to take willing boarders somewhere they haven't been before.

Originality is exciting to stumble upon: it gets noticed and rewarded. When Mick Artistik (who writes songs such as Dad Muscles - about pretending to be a dinosaur, crawling around the living room with six kids on his back) plays festivals, crowds quickly form, excited by the novelty of his fables.

There's no need to keep settling for mind-numbingly uninspired lyrics. Let's embrace bands that have something to tell us, that we can't instinctively know all the lyrics to after hearing the first verse. Like Björk, Clutch and Glass Animals.

Maybe there are no new types of story in the world. But there are always new ways to contort them.

So musicians: make like Chubby Checker, and twist.

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