Well, our blog about the best lyricists around today certainly generated a bit of a kerfuffle.
Yet, in all the comments, there was a noticeable lack of female wordsmiths. Hardly a surprise: most lists of these sort, whether it’s best guitarists, best albums, best gigs, live acts, whatever, tend to have a male bias. Only a few of our commenters singled out worthy women candidates, not least the fantastically erudite Joanna Newsom and the wise and austere Laura Marling.
And moreover, the conventional image of a rock poet does tend to be male, white, sensitive. There’s no point getting on too much of a feminist high horse about it (though I do love my feminist high horse) – taste is taste. But let’s have a bit of affirmative action and single out some great female lyricists.
From the skew-viewed, idiosyncratic exuberance of early days with The Sugarcubes and Debut to the more subtle turns of later years, Bjork has always had a knack for dreaming up strange dramatic conceits, illuminated by her unique personality. There’s the exploration of emotions as if they were they behaviour of a strange species on ‘Human Behaviour’, the strange tableau of a woman throwing small objects off a cliff to satisfy her destructive urges and allow her to be contented with her lover on ‘Hyperballad’, the charming take on family inheritances on ‘Heirloom’ (“I have a recurrent dream/Every time I lose my voice/
I swallow little glowing lights/my mother and son baked for me”.
Definitely one of the most idiosyncratic and creative lyricists of a generation, Kate ran the gamut from intriguing to outright weird. Staking her claim to literary greatness from her first single, a reimagining of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. Later, she also based ‘Cloudbusting’ on Peter Reich’s ‘A Book Of Dreams’, a memoir of his father, the psychologist Wilhelm Reich. Her own inventions were no less remarkable, though, from ‘Breathing”s chilling imaginings of the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, to ‘There Goes A Tenner”s bizarre crime capers.
Few artists manage to create a world so totally their own as Harvey’s world of dark obsessions, southern preacher men, roads, guns, bibles and murder. Well, yes, apart from Nick Cave. You have to go some to beat the delightful dumbness of ’50ft Queenie’ and the unabashed ferocity of her recent collaboration with John Parish, ‘A Woman A Man Walked By’ showed she’s still got it.
Not only one of the funniest, filthiest and wittiest word-woman of recent years, but also one of the most interesting political voices we’ve heard in a long time.
The original punk poetess, her heroes were mostly all writers rather than musicians. Her classic album ‘Horses’, and her recent long musical poem ‘The Coral Sea’ are both masterclasses in the potential of setting words to music.
And then there’s Kristin Hersh, Tori Amos (early period, mind), Kim Deal, Kim Gordon, Missy Elliott, Beth Gibbons, Justine Frischmann, yada yada… who are your favourites?