Understanding Lyrics: Determining Mood
This post is part of a series on how to do close readings of lyrics. For the full list of analytical tools for lyrics, see my introductory post. To help flesh out the previously posted list on close readings of lyrics, I shall go through each item listed and give some examples to help illustrate some real-world examples of the concepts being talked about. Those familiar with analyzing poetry will find much familiar in this list, as this post will be a basic overview examining the purpose of a song’s lyrics. Songs cannot be examined by their lyrics alone, but they serve as an important piece of the work to evaluate. This series seeks to help shape the conversation in lyrical analysis to broaden the rhetorical discourse on song lyrics.
- What is the mood or atmosphere the lyricist is trying to create?
- What key words, images, etc give evidence of and support the mood?
Mood is something that is much easier to determine than some of the other facets of lyrics, mostly because it involves our own emotional responses. Lyrics work to create a certain state of feeling and mind, and we can identify those feelings because they are intrinsic to us. Effective lyrics leave a traceable impact on us as the audience in how they change our mood (though whether or not we can clearly articulate how we feel is something different.) We want to not only identify that mood (or atmosphere) the lyrics create, but more importantly identify what elements create, sustain, and prove the mood.
Peter Gabriel’s song “Intruder”from his third self-titled solo album proves to be a good example. Words, images, and other elements of lyrics help shape and sustain a dark and creepy mood. The description of the intrusion is crafted as something easy and simple, with such phrases as “slipping the clippers through the telephone wires” and the emphasis that the intruder “knows” a whole lot about his trade, prove particularly harrowing. A second element of the song’s effectiveness is that this is an intrusion into a domestic setting, imminently relatable. The images of house windows, cupboards, and drawers are all images ingrained into our daily lives, making the violation of of the intruder all more unsettling when we realize it’s our house he could be talking about.
It must be said that the music is also is incredibly effective in creepy. The ominous drums, the seemingly random chords, and the grinding of a music string, among other elements of the music at the beginning of the song (and throughout), all contribute to a feeling of something off-kilter, inspiring paranoia.
In the case of mood, music can prove to be even more important in creating a mood for a song. But specific details in lyrics prove to be an important block in building atmosphere as well.