Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thanks for the Melodies

Why do some songwriters seemingly lose their sense of melody after a while?

Paul Simon is perhaps the best--or should that be worst?--example of this adult-onset melody deficiency syndrome. Through his days with Art Garfunkel, his unerring sense of melody was central to every song he wrote. For the first fifteen or so years of his solo career, his ear for a strong tune was still evident in his songwriting. Then, beginning about the time of his work on the disastrous Capeman, he seemed to throw all sense of melody out the window. His lyrics rambled pointlessly, his songs seemed to be musically pointless. Listening to his last solo album was virtually painful.

Another Paul--Macca himself--seems to have developed the same affliction. His post-9/11 song "Freedom" was cacaphonous, almost embarrassingly so; the 2001 album that accompanied it, Driving Rain, seemed rambling and tuneless. Even his much-acclaimed Chaos & Creation in the Back Yard, for all its energy, lacks the infectious sense of melody that typified McCartney's previous works. If you listen to the songs, all the pieces seem to be there, but they never pull together into a catchy song.

The same problem ruined Jane Siberry's career back in the 1990's, and has rendered Tori Amos pointless and irrelevant. Both were intensely melodious on their early efforts, and then lost all focus as time went along. Stevie Nicks, Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, the Rolling Stones--all of them have shown symptoms of this musical malady as well...

It's no wonder that advertisers pick the same dozen or so songs, secure the rights, and overplay them as background music for their commercials until all the musical life is vampirically sucked from each song. With so few strong melodies out there, you gotta grab what you can while you can! Heck, if it weren't for commercials and those "meaningful montages" that typify almost every WB television show, one might think that tunes had been totally abandoned!...

(Take this all with a grain of salt, however: I am one of those few who owns Jerry Lewis's Greatest Hits on CD. No, not Jerry Lee Lewis--Jerry Lewis, of Martin & Lewis and MD telethon fame. No fooling...)

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