One of the things that initially drew me to Mike Doughty‘s music, way back when he was fronting Soul Coughing, was the way he used alliteration (or stabreim for the Wagnerians out there), internal rhymes, and unusual rhythms to make not just the voice, but also the language serve as an instrument. The line off his new album, Haughty Melodic that’s currently running through my head all day manages to use a very simple lyric to surprisingly cool effect:
Lonely. And the only way to beat it is to bat it down and the only way to beat it is to bat it down and the only way to beat it is to bat it down and the only way to beat it is to bat it down. (Repeat)
A lot of the bad poetry I wrote in high school was highly Doughty-derivative, but he’s still a great example to study if you’re interested in the mechanics of well-flowing, lyrical sentences. On a related note, I also really like this choice in the song “Move On” off the Future Soundtrack for America:
Bloom like a flower in bluest night / Bloom like the sunlight in my song.
“Blackest” night is the obvious choice, but “bluest” gives you the initial rhyme with “bloom” and also evokes a certain kind of late-evening when there’s just enough residual light from the sunset to leave the sky a kind of deep, rich blue. And because you’re expecting “blackest,” the surprise at the deviation from the cliché forces you to actually picture the image.
On the whole, incidentally, I’m still adjusting to Haughty Melodic‘s “medium rock” approach, as distinguished from the one-dude-with-a-guitar “small rock” of Skittish and his previous live shows. “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” (source of the “Lonely” line above) is phenomenal, probably one of his best solo songs. For some of them, the added instrumentals work well: After some initial dissonance, I decided I liked the sped-up, alt-country version of “Sunken-Eyed Girl,” though I’m glad to also have the more plaintive stripped-down version on Smofe & Smang. I even got to like the new version of “Grey Ghost,” though I’ll confess I still kind of prefer the nonsense-lyric bridge he used to sing before he’d written a proper bridge. “Unsingable Name” also benefits from the percussion and strings; the live version sans band always felt like it needed fleshing out. But I don’t think anything can sell me on the new “Busting up a Starbux,” which just sounds overproduced and too busy. Still, I’m glad he’s developing his sound: Skittish is probably one of my top-ten all-time favorite albums, but I don’t know that he could’ve improved upon it while sticking with the dude-and-a-guitar formula.