Streets ahead of the competition

Share
Related Topics

I have a soft spot for songs about songwriting - whether it's Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", with its sung subtitles for the tone deaf ("The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift") or Cole Porter, taking time out in "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" to muse over the eerie power of the "the change from major to minor". I think it's because I'm as musical as a house brick myself, and for a brief moment these passages give at least the illusion of a larger technical competence. What real songwriters make of these devices, I'm not sure, but the fact that Natasha Bedingfield's "These Words" has just been nominated for an Ivor Novello Award for "best song musically and lyrically" would seem to suggest that they're not immune to the charm of self-reference either.

"These Words" is about the difficulty of writing a love song. "Trying to find the magic/ Trying to write a classic" sings Bedingfield, as she chronicles the fruitless search for a "killer hook" and the expressive deficiencies of a D-E-F chord combination. The bridges in the song moan about how difficult it is to be musically clever, and then the choruses abandon the effort and opt for the simplest possible statement - squeezing four breathless repetitions of the words "I love you" into a space that is actually only big enough for one. A four-beat line is suddenly followed by a 12-beat one, and there is something giddy and uncontainable about that unexpected flurry. Perhaps that's why it caught the eye of the nominating jury, though future Novello Award aspirants may also note that you scarcely harm your chances if you kvetch about craft with your peer-group judges.

The odd thing about "These Words" - given that the Novello Awards are expressly designed to reward "excellence in songwriting and composition" - is that it is also a compendium of songwriting solecisms. Take the lines, "There's no other way/ To better say/ I love you, I love you", which manage to combine metrical clumsiness (Bedingfield has to put the stress on the second syllable of "other" to make it fit the rhythm) with the vice of abandoning idiom for the sake of a rhyme. Or what about the horrible half-rhyme of: "Waste-bin full of paper/ Clever rhymes, see you later"? Perhaps that's the point here - the wail of incompetence isn't the familiar poetic trope but the real thing. Perhaps this is a clever song about a useless songwriter. But I doubt it somehow.

Perfect technical craft isn't everything, though, a point brought home by the nominee that offers the strongest competition to "These Words". Keane's "Everybody's Changing" needn't detain us for long, I think - any song that can rhyme "aching" with "breaking" deserves to serve a long sentence in a shopping-centre lift - but "Dry Your Eyes", the sing by Mike Skinner's band The Streets, is quite another matter.

Written for his album A Grand Don't Come for Free, "Dry Your Eyes" is about the moment when it finally dawns on you that your love isn't reciprocated any more - and if you were to get picky about metre and rhyme, you could probably find as many awkwardnesses in it as there are in the Bedingfield song. It displays the indifference to metrical regularity that is familiar from a lot of rap songs - in which extra syllables are usually just kicked into line by the speed of the delivery. There's also nothing in the rhymes to get Sondheim (or even Eminem) worried. "The wicked thing about us is we always have trust," the singer pleads as he tries to persuade his girlfriend to change her mind. "We can even have an open relationship, if you must." As a transcription of the speech of a young inner-city male, that fails on most levels. "If you must"? It sounds like the Prince of Wales.

And yet "Dry Your Eyes" is a fantastic song - deeply moving and rather knowing in the way that it alternates between a minute recollection of every physical gesture and look of the last parting and the lyrical beauty of its blokish chorus - with its clichéd reassurances and the way its last line helplessly runs out of things to say - "It's over". This isn't Skinner's only nomination either - he's also there in the Best Contemporary Song category with "Blinded by the Lights" - a song about getting out of your head while waiting for your faithless girlfriend to turn up for a date. And though Ivor Novello would have winced at the language, I think he would have recognised the emotional truth of the song and the genuinely effective way in which its interrupted chorus conveys the nagging persistence of a suspicion that can't quite be pinned down. "These Words" ostentatiously namechecks the craft of songwriting. "Dry Your Eyes" and "Blinded by the Lights" simply demonstrate it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Phase Teacher required

£90 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Exciting opputunities availabl...

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron walks on stage to speak at The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference on November 4, 2013  

Does Cameron really believe in 'British Values'?

Temi Ogunye
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz