I really like Imogen Heap. A lot. She cheers me up, she knows what I’m thinking, feeling, needing to express. I regard her as a pop-acoustic artist similar to how I regard Lady Gaga as a pop-r&b artist and how I regard Whitacre as a composer: they’re doing with the industry what I love to see done. They’re pushing the limits, giving me rich textures and catchy phrases; wringing tears from my eyes and stealing laughter from my soul. They’re breaking the mold. Just like Mozart. Just like Beethoven. Just like the greats that everyone remembers. Now, don’t get me wrong, Imogen Heap has almost definitely been active with drugs, and Lady Gaga’s morals are nothing to really apply functionally, but the music they are creating makes me wish that such high standards were applied throughout the industry. Then all I would be complaining about would be how shitty their morals are and not how much their music sucks. [Though I’ve yet to see dirt on Whitacre, and as such will not denote his name to any extent.]
All of this being said, a friend and I managed to find our ways into a discussion about music similar to one I have with my husband about film from time to time. And the question still remains: is art more communicative when it is a subjective string of emotionally charged phrases (ie. Reliant K talking about teenage angst/apathy/loneliness by describing eating cereal and staring out the window), or is it more communicative when it presents a story with a moral (or at least a theme) to be embraced (ie. Passenger talking about how the only true failure is never trying in things you’ve never done). Joel and I fall on the stable conclusion that experiencing a story, a character development, and a clear representation of roles and presented morals is far superior than calling a string of emotions “good art”. Though I admit I did at one time hold the view that the string of emotions tugging on the heart was more effective. When I was 13. Now I realize those views are most appealing to stereotypical church women [no offense to women of the church who do not fit those stereotypes].
Imogen, I realize, uses mostly emotions to tell her stories, using only vague mentions of story lines in her songs I enjoy most, including that which she is most famous for, Hide and Seek. However I also would like to note that those abstract phrases that she uses in the chorus, for example, communicate a lot in the context of the story that she’s telling, communicating disorientation in the realization of a lover’s deceit, and including the juxtaposition of a childhood game against the grungy, almost steam-punk elements of the industrial age.
Similarly, I find that Passenger’s music, the majority of which condenses stories with less abstract metaphors always tugs on my heart if I’m paying any attention to them.
This being said, I believe that there needs to be a delicate blend of the emotional tug attributed to abstract metaphor mixed with a familiar character, situation, or story in order to communicate what is intended to be said. Otherwise we’ll have people listening to songs and thinking “trains and sewing machines?! They were here firs?! What is she TALKING about?!” Without close attention to these kinds of songs as a form of art and expression of the human condition, we lose the ability to understand each other, and to learn from each other. To experience things together. All beautiful things that art does with such grace.