“Poetry: the best words in the best order”
Samuel Taylor Colleridge
Where do poems end and lyrics begin? We’re quick to call lyricists poets, but as even the only Nobel Prize winning musician we know of, Bob Dylan, said, “lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page”. Yet can a collection of lyrics also be a poem? Is there a correlation between the written and sung word?
Perhaps less surprising than Dylan’s modest reaction to his own work as poems, are those of the excellent poet, and so-so songwriter, Simon Armitage, who stated, “songs are often bad poems. Take the music away and what you’re left with is often an awkward piece of creative writing full of lumpy syllables, cheesy rhymes, exhausted clichés and mixed metaphors.” Surprisingly cutting for a man who largely seems rather charming.
If songwriters don’t think they’re poets, and poets don’t think they’re poets, then maybe they’re not poets. Yet does it really matter? Are the words of Gill Scott Heron or Leonard Cohen any less important, any less literate, because they’re put to song, not to paper? Is it less noble for Alex Turner or Jay-Z to inspire youngsters to take an interest in the written word than it would be if the same person discovered Dylan Thomas or Jo Bell? Lyrics, like poetry can be beautiful and inspiring, funny and heartbreaking, absolutely mind-blowing or utterly terrible. Celebrate it all, and leave the Nobel Prize judges to decide just what they consider literature.
Talking of poetry, it was the wonderful Phillip Larkin who famously said of Hull, “it’s as good a place to write in as any.” It was on that North-Eastern English coast that Night Flowers were born, the best part of a decade ago. Their debut album, Wild Notion, released this Friday, has been an album a long time coming, and one that is thankfully well worth the wait.
The album truly began to come together when vocalist, Sophia Pettit from Boston, that’s the one in Massachusetts rather than Lincolnshire, came on board in the Summer of 2015. The album, honed across various locations, before being laid to tape at the Unwound studio in Hackney, is perhaps fittingly for a record many years in the making, about stepping out of the past and into the future, as guitarist Greg Ullyart recently explained, “the memory often plays tricks and blurs the lines between present, past and future tense, and sometimes when you’re writing, it’s only with hindsight you can see what you were writing about. The songs put a few demons to bed.”
Undeniably beautiful produced, and perfectly crafted, what really leaps out about this record for us is the complete lack of cynicism. Even when delivering lines as cutting as, “darling, I see you falling and I do nothing”, as Sophia sings on the album’s stunning centre piece Losing The Light, they are delivered with a disarming honesty. It’s an album filled with moments of doubt and questioning, but not one that wallows in the darkness, it’s always looking for a bright side, always trying to find some hope to cling to.
What’s also impressive is the sheer confidence; how many bands would save not just a single, but arguably their finest song to date, Cruel Wind, to the album’s final track? How many songwriters would hide such crushed heartache as, “my love is where you left it, unwound. It means everything and nothing to me.” behind a tune as beautiful and uplifting as Unwound? How many would take such a wild diversion as the sublime, Head On, with its swirling synths, muted vocal style and epic brass-laden finale?
Whether success finds them or not, there can be few bands who’ve worked harder, deserved more luck or written a debut album close so close to being a full realisation of their sound as Night Flowers have. Wild Notion is a triumph, a reminder sometimes the best things are definitely worth waiting for.
“Just like those birthday cards we used to make, spelling a friend’s name with their best qualities, here we’ve made an “acrostic poem” for our album, WILD NOTION. It’s a little taste of music and artists close to our hearts and who’ve influenced us along the way.”
W – Wouldn’t It Be Nice – Beach Boys
I – Iceblink Luck, Cocteau Twins
L – Lollipop (Ode to Jim) – Alvvays
D – Darkness on the edge of town – Bruce Springsteen
N – No Longer Making Time – Slowdive
O – Oblivion, Grimes
T – Till Death – Japanese Breakfast
I – It gets more blue – Girlpool
O – OX4 – Ride
N – Nocturne – Wild Nothing