New music, or the music of today, seems to have a different compilation of non-lyrical sound and lyrical sound than the music of old. Music of the prior days seemed to use non-lyrical sound—instruments—to accentuate the lyrical sound.
When I listen to rock music of the ‘90s and early-2000s, I hear the guitar and drum kit putting the songwriter and lead vocalist on a pedestal. In that same generation’s hip hop sound, I hear the record slow and the sound level of “the hook” drop as the lead vocalist (or rapper) tenaciously spit his poem into a 15-second flow.
Then, the hook was not what hook-ed the audience, instead, it was the lyrics.
Musical productions these days can seem like a contest awarding the musician who puts the most sound into a single track. Jon Bellion’s single All-Time Low comes to mind. While Bellion has lyrics that are quite good in my opinion, the lyrics themselves are not the attention getter of the song’s thesis. They live behind the veil of non-lyrical sound.
Instead, an auto-tuned boo-bopper, an organ, some chimes, sub-woofing air, and a million other Garage Band related noises I don’t understand fill the speakers and therefore our collective attention. Bellion’s voice itself becomes secondary.
For me, as an admittedly biased consumer of music that is lyric-centric, I am nostalgic for that type of sound balance. And today I am sad.
The world lost Chris Cornell, frontman and songwriter of Soundgarden and Audioslave to an apparent suicide at the MGM Grand in Detroit last night. As someone who consistently delved into the words or Cornell in the difficult times of my own life, I am struck by this time of his life.
Cornell and Audioslave were a face of grunge music. The grunge sound is a fusion of punk rock and heavy metal and through those two types of sound grunge, itself, hints at a certain level of emo-ness. The lyrics of grunge are typically angst-filled and introspective, often addressing themes such as social alienation, apathy, concerns about confinement, and a desire for freedom.
Overall the theme can be interpreted as downtrodden.
But Audioslave was different. While the sound was distinctly grunge, the ethos was not typical of grunge. Instead, Cornell and Audioslave hinted at an optimism on the horizon of social alienation, apathy, concerns about confinement, and a desire for freedom.
In Be Yourself, Audioslave begins their song by describing the aftermath of a great loss, maybe the immediacy of a break-up.
“Someone falls to pieces
Sleeping all alone
Someone kills the pain”
Yes, emo-ness is immediately present, because it is grunge. But the chorus immediately opens our eyes to optimism.
“To be yourself is all that you can do”
A reminder that getting lost in the pain is not only counter-productive but in fact illogical.
“Don't lose any sleep tonight... I'm sure everything will end up alright”
And that brings me back to the context of All Time Low.
In an interview with Idolator's Mike Wass, Bellion said "[All Time Low] is an illustration of what it feels like to be three days into a break-up — the really heavy, emotional, 'I don’t even know if I want to continue living at this point.' I'm just being majorly honest and letting you know how horrible everything's been since you left. I don't think it's a specific situation but I want it to be broad so everyone can relate to that. I think everybody's been in that situation at least once in their life. Your first love… when that ends that's a devastating thing to feel."
While the two sounds of Jon Bellion and Chris Cornell could not be more polarizing, they share similar stories beneath the veil of their lyrics.
In an interview with Blabbermouth.net, Cornell explains this theme of Be Yourself:
"The 'be yourself' part really just came from a lot of things that I've gone through in my life and a lot of different changes and all the different tragedies and all the horrendously stupid mistakes I've made in my personal life, and wanting to be able to make up for those things and wanting to be able to not be ashamed, all that stuff."
I think if Chris Cornell could speak to Bellion’s song today, he would tell Bellion or anyone who connects with All Time Low, that our all-time lows are only temporary.
“Even when you've paid enough, been pulled apart or been held up
With every single memory of the good or bad faces of luck
Don't lose any sleep tonight
I'm sure everything will end up alright
You may win or lose
But to be yourself is all that you can do
To be yourself is all that you can do”