Anyone still do insightful or intelligent lyrics?

I have always loved lyrics as much as music and think that music I enjoy must be a combination of both good lyrics and good musicianship. I love some of Paul Simon's lyrics from as far back as the '60's. He was only 16 when he wrote "Sounds of Silence." There are dozens of other examples from Simon and Garfunkel.

Lyle Lovett has written some great lyrics i.e. "Simlpe Song."

Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Hoyt Axton, John and Paul, Mick and Richard, Emmylou Harris, Gordon Lightfoot, and even Midge Ure have written things that impressed me, but I find very few people writing great lyrics anymore!

Is anyone writing intelligent, insightful lyrics anymore?
Almost anything by Greg Brown. A great singer songwriter. Go to Redhouse Records website ( and you can listen to some of his tunes. I recommend slant six mind and covenant but actually love anything he does.

I also like Tragically Hip lyrics for a more hard rocking sound.

Happy listening
I take an active dislike to groups who think that one line repeated 4 times is a chorus. Some popular, some critically acclaimed. To me, just lazy.

How about Sarah McLachlan, Joe Pernice (of the Pernice Bros.), Jane Siberry, Tom Russell, Loreena McKinnitt, Peter Case? You can see their catalogs at

Happy Hunting!
Steely Dan's latest LP is full of lyrics that rival good poetry in that they can mean so many things to different people. I love the mental picture great lyrics provide.

Although I wasn't crazy about her most recent album, I think Lucinda Williams is one of the best contemporary songwriters. Among lesser knowns, I strongly believe that Freedy Johnston and Amy Rigby deserve more attention. For something very strange and wonderful--and also off the beaten path--try the Handsome Family, a sort of Flannery O'Connor meets Johnny Cash kind of deal. Eerie, but amazing.
I've always found the lyrics of Rushes Neil Peart to be extremely intelligent and thought provoking. He has published several literary works as well. A favorite of mine from Natural Science "When the ebbing tide retreats along the rocky shoreline it leaves a trail of tidal pools in a short lived galaxy. Each microcosmic planet a complete society. A simple kind of mirror to reflect upon our own- all the busy little creatures chasing out there destinies. Living in their pools they soon forget about the sea..."
Springsteen's early songs were relevant to his times and personal experiences growing up in a middle class NJ household. His lyrics on some songs rivaled great poetry. His latest albums are getting back to that personal experience style. I also like Heart's, Robert Cray's, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, and Melissa Ethridge's lyrics. I don't know if they compare to some of the best, but I enjoy them.
This is in a little different direction, but I think Isaak Brock of Modest Mouse writes some really great stuff about space, god, and cockroaches. Not as linear as most, but crazily genius.
I've always found Richard Thompson's lyrics to be very insightful, though they tend to be a little caustic. I would also second Sarah McLachlan, more mainstream than Richard Thompson, but just as insightful.
Some of my nominations:

XTC continue to be some of the wittiest lyricists around (okay - so they've been around for close to 30 years, but they're still going)

Martin Newell (read poems on his website)

Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera)

Martin Phillips (The Chills - last release back in '96)
Bob Dylan, as if he required mention in this context. "Love and Theft' is as good, lyrically, as popular music gets. And that's about as good lyrically as music gets, period.

They Might be Giants are very smart and very clever, though insightful would perhaps be going a bit too far. Ani Difranco, when she isn't being too preachy, can write a moving, wise lyric -- check out some of the songs from Dilate.

Tom Waits, of course.

Wilco, Freakwater as well.

Almost certaily some of the best work in "song" writing is being done in rap and hip hop. But I am totally ignorant of that stuff, so can't say. Anyway, that's where most of teh creative, young talent is going, as well as the hacks.

By the way, I think the "they just don't write 'em like they used to" line is probably nonsense. Really top drawer work is always rare. We think there used to me more of it, because it made a lasting impression then, while the vast majority of the past's crap faded away; on the other hand, we are bombarded constantly with all of what's out there now, good and (mostly) bad. And also because we are not in a position to appreiate something genuinely new and good immediately, so it may go under the radar until we learn to hear it well.

There is plenty of new groups with insightful lyrics coming out, however, unfortunatly they are ushered to the back of the prodcution line to make way for the "pop" artists with your deaded 1 line chorus.

Nine inch nails, Reznor had some very insightful and thoughful lyrics. (on his first few albums, i cant vouch for his more recent stuff, i kinda fell out of it) So does the group P.O.D.
Henry Rollings did as well, but i dont know if he is still producing music. I kind of lost track with him after a certain album.

There is a Group called Rehab, they had real good lyrics. It is rap, but he doesent sing about Bitches and Big Screen TVs, his lyrics all derived from his time at rehab and it was a part of his "Rehabilitation". They never made it far, but it is one of my favorite rap groups.

Alice in chains has some real good thoughtful lyrics. Too bad Lane Staley the singer is dead. I guess they found his corpse in his Humidor 2 weeks after he OD'd. He decomposed so fast they had to do a DNA test to indentify him.

Alot of the "Seattle grunge" movement groups had some very good lyrics. Too bad the music sucked on alot of them. SoundGarden has some real good stuff. It also has some crap too.

Eminem has some pretty good lyrics, they are very angry, but they are rather well thought out. I will probably be beaten up for that one, so let me also state that some of his crap is just pure crap.

It seems like anything written from the soul is just ignored for catchy beats and catchy rhymes.
Too bad.
Lost in space
Bachelor No 2
Soundtrack to Magnolia
I don't know about anything prevoius to the above
Clive Gregson! Check out the 1995 release People and Places on Compass Records.
Nrchy, taking into account the artists you mention, you may want to check out Joshua Kadison. While my musical tastes tend to usually lean in a much harder direction, it's the lyrics from this singer/songwriter that keep me coming back. Unless sugary sweet is your thing, I would suggest to stay away from "Painted Desert Serenade" even though this album is viewed by many as his best and has gotten the most acclaim. "Delilah Blue" is, however, a much better album, in my opinion. Darker lyrics with the same sincerity and a little gravel thrown in the ol' voicebox to make it all the more real. His best album, however, is the one that the fewest people have heard..."Vanishing America". It's a blend of the character of the first two albums with a loose theme of things that are fondly remembered, may be uniquely American and are or soon will be completely gone.
Seems that folk music is where many of the
best (and worst) poets are these days.
Some of the best IMHO are

Iris DeMent
Guy Clark
Darrel Scott
Tom Russell
Greg Brown
Rodney Crowell
Loudon Wainwright III
Susan Werner

If you're more into rock or pop

Dave Alvin
Steve Earle
Richard Thompson
John Hiatt
Fountain of Waynes
Nrchy-I think the quality of lyrics today are still very good amongst the best artists.
Here's a few that spring to mind that haven't been mentioned above.

Nick Cave-a true master craftsman when it comes to lyrics.

Thom Yorke-Radiohead-post modern at times but relates his world view in a fragmented fashion that fits the times.

Ryan Adams-admits he spends a long time over his lyrics,again an excellent craftsman-check out the Love Is Hell eps.

Steven Merrit/Magnetic Fields-extremely funny,insighful and playful-check out some of 69 Love Songs-a triple CD set with believe it or not 69 love songs.

Of course there is the more intelligent side of rap which I don't specialise but Michael Franti of Spearhead is a superb lyricist.

There's hardly been a generation of popular music that hasn't thrown a classic lyricist.
As Brooks mentioned: Aimee Mann (Lost in space;
Bachelor No 2; Soundtrack to Magnolia.)

Brad Day
Atlanta, GA
I agree with many of the previous posts. Amy Mann and Ryan Adams are two of my favorites. Heartbreaker by Adams and Bachelor Number Two by Mann are, in my opinion, classic albums. I would add Jay Farrar to the list. His work with Uncle Tupelo, particularly the March 16-22 album with former bandmate Jeff Tweedy, is very good. I prefer his first two Son Volt albums, Trace and Straightaways, to his great work in Tupelo. A great songwriter.
I'm a big fan of lyrics. I don't know about qualifying that with the word "intelligent" as there are some really silly lyrics I enjoy.....I guess those are also really witty as well, so "intelligence" does come into play there.

In no particular order here are a few I enjoy for one reason or another:

Tom Waits (a master of the word!)
Tori Amos
Gillian Welch
Tresspassers William
Patty Griffin
Rickie Lee Jones
Joni Mitchell
Dar Williams
Laurie Anderson
Patricial Barber
Jim White
Patti Smith
16 Horsepower

Just yesterday was enjoying some pretty fresh new music from a group called "Bright Eyes". Not for everyone (and VERY polarizing in that respect I'd bet), but the lyrics were great. The album is called "Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground ". Again, not an overall recommendation, but appropriate to this thread IMO.

Narchy and all:
You can check out a couple tracks ofChris Smither here. A little like the folks you mentioned. Blues-folk in lighting Hopkins-John Hurt line. Pretty decent writer and a great live show if you ever get the chance.

I remain,
In general I don't listen to lyrics, because for me the music is where it's at.

"Institutionalized" by Suicidal Tendencies on the other hand is an entirely different story. The words to that song are unforgettable...that is, if you can decipher them.
In this day and age, the lyrics of VNV Nation's Ronan Harris seem to really speak to the disillusionment and frustration that a existentialist feels while looking back into the society that surrounds us. They are as intelligent and timely at this point in my life as was Bad Religion's when I was a kid, hearing Against the Grain for the first time and realizing that their were others who don't take what it spoonfed to us at face value but rather form their own opinions.
The most clever lyrics that I have heard in a long time= Everclear - Songs From An American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How To Smile. Check it out.
Sometimes I try to do things, and it just don't turn out the way I wanted to
and I get real frustrated, it's like, I take my time and I try real hard, but
no matter what I do and no matter what I try it never works out, it's like I
concentrate on it real hard, but it never works out, it's like I need some
time to figure these things out, but there's always someone there going:
- Hey Mike, you know, we been noticing you've been having alot of problems
lately, you know, and like maybe you should talk about it, you'd feel alot
And I go:
- No, it's ok, I know I have some problems, I'll figure it out myself, just
leave me alone I'll figure it out.
And they go:
- Why don't you talk about it, you'll feel alot better?
And I go:
- No, I don't want to, just leave me alone, I'll figure it out myself!
And they keep on bugging me and it builds up inside, it builds up inside...

So you're gonna be institutionalized
You'll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
You won't have any say
They'll brainwash you until you see their way

I'm not crazy - institutionalized
You're the one who's crazy - institutionalized
You're driving me crazy - institutionalized

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

I was sitting in my room, and I was like staring at the walls thinking about
everything but then again I was thinking about nothing, and then my mom came
in and I didn't notice she was there and she calls my name and I didn't hear
her and then she started screaming:
And I go:
- What, what's the matter?
She goes:
- What's the matter with you?
I say:
- Nothing mom.
She goes:
- Don't tell me nothing, you're on drugs!
I go:
- No mom, I'm not on drugs, I'm ok, I'm just thinking, you know, why don't
you get me a Pepsi?
She goes:
- No, you're on drugs, you're crazy, normal people won't be acting that way!
I go:
- Mom, I'm all right, I'm just thinking, you know, so why don't you, like
give me a Pepsi?
And she goes:
- No, you're crazy!
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn't give it to me,
just one Pepsi...

They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
Tied around you're back, you're treated like thieves
Drug you up because they're lazy
It's too much work to help a crazy

I'm not crazy - institutionalized
You're the one who's crazy - institutionalized
You're driving me crazy - institutionalized

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in and they pulled up a
chair and they sat down, they go:
- Mike, we need to talk to you.
And I said:
- Okay, what's the matter?
They go:
- Well me and your mom, we been noticing lately you've been having alot of
problems, and you haven't been acting like yourself, and we're afraid that
you're going to hurt somebody, and we're afraid that you're gonna hurt
yourself, so we decided that it would be in your best interest if we put
you somewhere where you could get the help that you need...
And I said:
- Wait, what are we talking about?! We decided?! My best interest?! How can
you know, how can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to
say? I'm crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I
went to your institutional learning facilities. So how can you say that I'm

They say they're gonna fix my brain
Alleviate my suffering and my pain
But by the time they fix my head
Mentally I'll be dead

I'm not crazy - institutionalized
You're the one who's crazy - institutionalized
You're driving me crazy - institutionalized

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

It doesn't matter I'll probably get hit by a car anyway.
Ryan Adam's prior band, Whiskeytown, is basically his lyrics--Faithless Street is a great album. I'll also nominate Townes van Zandt and Gram Parsons (Rtn of the Grievous Angel in particular) and, in a completely different vein, Bad Religion and Sugar--at least Copper Blue ("standing on the edge of the Hoover Dam, I'm on the centerline, right between two states of mind").
You can also read clever lyrics just from the paper or the book, but the presence of a song or let's say "synergy" between lyrics and music can be defined different ways. You can feel the "clever" presence from the song that has minimal or even no lyrics, just use your imagination! Contrary, you can hear spoken word chat under tunes and recognize powerfull lyrics for example William Burroughs sought in Material and Laurie Anderson projects.
Excellent point Marakanetz!! That's one I wish I'd articulated myself. That's one of the things I enjoy about the "Bright Eyes" disc I mentioned.

It also brings to mind a whole different category of "intelligent" use of lyrics: This could be exemplified by the work of Byrne and Eno on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and the likes of Gavin Bryars on Jesus Blood's Never Failed me Yet, and others who've combined "found" lyrics and music together....then there's The Rachel's who produced a disc using actual sounds and recorded voice tracks sent to them from all over the world. Great stuff IMO.

Yeah, so Gumby fill us naive folks in on the lyrics you printed?

Marakanetz, you brought one of my favorites to mind:

"You know, I can see two tiny pictures of myself
and there's one in each of your eyes.
And they're doin' everything I do.
Every time I light a cigarette,
they light up theirs.
I take a drink and I look in
and they're drinkin' too.
It's drivin' me crazy. It's drivin' me nuts."

From 'Sharkey's night' Laurie Anderson/William Burroughs

Have you guys been to Neat stuff.


Those aren't lyrics I posted. Remember when GW Bush was sitting in that classroom of kids and the guy came in and whispered in his ear that a second jet had hit the Twin Towers? Remember the stunned look on his face? What I posted is what was going through his head at the time.
For a modern poet and good musician also, check out Jason Mraz. You will not be disappointed. Young and up and comer.

Good Listening,

You catch my mind with Byrne, Eno. Somehow whenever one speaks of Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs one's always thinking of Byrne, Eno, Fripp, Manzanera...
It seems that this group dictated one of the best and most "clever" janre(s) throughout the whole "song" history.
Although C&W is not my first choice, I totally enjoy Nanci
Griffith, her lyrics, voice and sound! "Other Voices/Other Rooms" got a lot of attention some years back.
Definitely Dylan, as someone else mentioned. "Love and Theft" is, like most of Dylan's songs, full of intelligent, challenging, and imaginative lyrics.

The only other person, IMHO, who writes intelligently (and emotionally) is the much unheraled Tom Ovans.
I'll second Regiolanthe's :

>> " XTC continue to be some of the wittiest lyricists around (okay - so they've been around for close to 30 years, but they're still going)" <<

For starters, grab XTC's "Skylarking" - you will not be disappointed.

To CDelplato RE XTC,

If you enjoy XTC (and looking at your threads, I can see that they are one of your favorites), I highly recommend that you pick up Martin Newell's "Greatest Living Englishman" (unless you already have it). He's a bit of an eccentric (also in a group called "The Cleaners from Venus"), who has produced quite a bit of low-fi (recorded in the basement type) CDs over the years. I - admittedly - only have "GEL", so I can't vouch for the rest of his stuff - but I'm sure it's smashing.

GEL was actually produced by Andy Partridge (and he does a lot of back-up drumming/guitars as well). It is definitely in the same mold (British pastoral pop, with social commentary thrown in for good measure), with great tunes.

See this all music write-up.
Clarification RE M Newell ...

Um, non-dyslexically, that would be GLE for Greatest Living Englishman
Modern poet and master of jazz vocals, check out Kurt Elling.

The lyrics on Lizz Wright's Salt are also worht more than
one listening.
Gunbei, all this time I though that was what was going through Bill Clinton's head when Monica was under his desk.
Gumbei: wow; many of your posts are always worth checking out. You, and Sean and TWl and a few others are a great way to start a thread mid-way through it.

Considering the thread's topic, well done!....again.

Oh yeah, Sting still and has always written some of the best lyrics since Paul Simon>>>>>now if someone with a decent voice and music producer would just do a decent cover of Sting's music......alas......
Steve Earle, Steve Forbert, Rosanne Cash, Bob Mould, Shelby Lynne, to name a few, IMHO of course. For my money though, John Lennon (both as a Beatle and solo artist) was probably the first (and best) "insightful" lyricist in popular music. The guy totally exposed himself from his Beatle days (Help!, Norwegion Wood, In My Life, etc.) through his solo work (Mother, Imagine, Mind Games, etc.). Whoa!
Regiolanthe - thanks for the tip. Will look into it. Anyone for something more lyrically obscure? How about Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians 'Element of Light' ?