Songwriting is a craft, but it is one that allows for some intense self-expression. You can learn the tricks of the trade just by keeping your hand in over years and years and by listening carefully to what others do. So, you twiddle the knobs and manipulate words and music. Sometimes you end up with a bland load of blah. But sometimes, you get a whole lot more than you bargained for. Something like the terrifying truth, in some form, comes roaring out from your subconscious. What do you do then, when it seems like you maybe revealed a bit too much or tapped into something that’s too hot to handle?
You try to assess the songs as songs, not as therapy or prophecy. We’ll see how that goes.
In this sequel to my post about the March 2019 5 in 5 challenge, I won’t go over the same things again. Instead I’ll provide a little background and then review each song.
I wasn’t expecting to participate in the 5 in 5 challenge in the first week of June. I thought I’d be busy. Plus, I’d been sick with the flu. I was still unwell when the first prompt arrived. But somehow, I was driven to complete all five songs in five days.
My theory is that my illness lowered my inhibitions to such an extent that I didn’t really think about what I was writing and performing beyond what I needed to do to complete and record each song. My voice was not in good shape, and so I had trouble hitting some notes. But (serendipity!) the rawness of the vocals added a gritty desperate edge that suited the songs. My not feeling well, and the mood I was in as a result, also made for a cranky set of songs overall.
It was good that, in addition to the usual prompts, optional musical prompts such as “use only three chords” were provided. Are you kidding? Me only use three chords? Maybe I’ll manage it someday… But I did use some of the other optional prompts.
Okay, let’s review the songs themselves:
Never Mind– I like the lyrics, and I like my phrasing of them- although it’s a bit tricky and I slipped up once or twice. Interesting rhythm in the way I sang, “Even on tiptoes, it’s a stretch I suppose”, for example. The chorus (which I’d already had lying around for a couple of years) may be a tad passive aggressive. The melody maybe sounds a bit too much like previous minor-key verse/ major-key chorus songs I’ve done. I’ll give it a 70/100.
Heavy Heart of Stone– Wow, this is heavy stuff. We’re getting into emo-goth territory here! Interestingly, this bleak howl of a song was the one that got by far the biggest response from the 5 in 5 community. I’m not always depressed, I assure you! I was a bit embarrassed by this, to be honest, but it isn’t bland, I’ll give you that much. I took the “heart of stone” prompt and made into a symbol of depression masked as indifference. I sang it pretty well, I’d say, and while the recording quality is lo-fi it has an atmosphere that suits the subject matter. I’ll give it a 75.
Pressure– As with “Never Mind,” I took words from the list provided and spun lines out of them, and the theme that quickly emerged was “pressure”. But I this case I came up with the music first, based on the optional musical prompt (I don’t remember what it was- probably a set of chords), recorded a backing track and then composed the lyrics over that. Another minor-key melody. Nice melodica solos. The singing’s pretty good; could be better in places. The intro, featuring wordless chanting, gets things moving nicely. And I like the harmonized ending. I’ll give it a 75.
Still Life– Superficially, at least, this is lighter than the previous songs on this list. It’s a pretty melody but I can’t help but think of it as a bit schmaltzy. But maybe I’m just a bit embarrassed by the emotions coming out here. I’ll give it a 60.
Clarity– This doesn’t seem quite finished. In response to the prompt of having a two-line chorus AND being the prompt of being cleansed of something, I made the chorus into a mantra. I’ve done that before: I did that on “Stop Thinking About You’ on my “Words and Things” album.
It doesn’t seem to work so well here. Maybe the trouble is that the music I came up with for the chorus isn’t quite right. I do like my singing on this one. I especially like how I sang the line, “I mean well, but well, what does that mean?” It’s a good line: I came up with it some years ago and have been waiting for the right thing to put it in. I’m not sure this is it, though. The pacing of the recording is sloppy. I’ll give it a 55, with room for improvement.
After recording these songs I developed a throat infection, which only goes to show that perseverance in the pursuit of creation isn’t always wise.