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One of the most talked about, debated and oftentimes misunderstood aspects of great music are lyrics.

They’re the obvious entry point to those who don’t know a major from a minor chord, for those who can’t carry a tune in a bucket and who are perpetually unable to keep time even if only snapping their fingers.

People tend to heap praise on those who weave stories that show off their mastery of the English language, yet what should be obvious is that while the really great songwriters may use a clever phrase they always find a way to fit it into the melody they’ve come up with so it rolls effortlessly off the tongue.

Here’s an example where the lyrical aim is suitably high, but by only aspiring to reach the first benchmark without meeting the melodic requirements the song becomes mostly forgettable.


Please Let Me Live My Dream
There have been more people named Horace Holmes in the Who’s Who of the human race over the years than you’d likely thought possible, a British Labour Party official and an American television news anchor among them, but the one we’re focused on was a bass player in the 1920’s for a number of blues and jazz artists who turned to songwriting later on. He also happened to own a recording studio and record shop in New York in the early 1950’s which is surely how he came to be connected with Derby Records.

His credentials in the music biz therefore seem to hold up to scrutiny, but his written work doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Maybe his most remembered credit was for Love Me A Little, a song he co-wrote which was recorded by (among others) Lena Horne with Artie Shaw’s band, but while it’s got an easy flowing melody the lyrics are kind of trite.

Or perhaps you prefer Fan Tan Fannie by The Delta Rhythm Boys, which again manages to come up with a decent musical track but the story, though attempting to be sort of racy in they’re about a woman who cares only to “gamble, drink and win”, doesn’t have the biting humor it really needs to impress.

On Clown Of The Masquerade he’s going for something entirely different, a poignant tale of love with literary allusions. It’s the kind of high wire act that if successful is sure to impress, but if the words are little off, or if the music doesn’t elevate those words and make them seem natural, then it’s bound to fall flat.

Where does this leave The Carnations? Largely at the mercy of somebody else.

The Show Must Always Go On
Okay, let’s get right to the biggest problem with the song… it’s too damn slow.

Not that slow songs are a problem unto themselves, but this song sticks to a tempo that is crawling at such a meandering pace that it can’t help but make the high-minded lyrics seem awkward and stilted.

It clearly takes some cues from the classic 1939 composition (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, later done to perfection in rock by The Moonglows, but thematically it really has more in common with the later work of Smokey Robinson who loved clown allegories and indeed this song actually includes a line about the most famous sad clown of all, Pagliacci, someone who Smokey returned to on three occasions, with each mention sounding as effortless as can be.

But the line Holmes comes up with here falls flat because it is too literal, almost explaining to the audience what his role is in the story. More troubling is the melody it’s attached to doesn’t do it justice. It’s a great name to sing, your tongue never stops moving on the word, yet here it’s shoehorned into a line that has no melodic identity.

As with most of this song the idea itself is good, but it’s executed in a hackneyed manner.

All of this means the lead singer, who was the most impressive aspect of the other side, a rendition of the pop song Tree In The Meadow (which not surprisingly had a good melody at least), is forced to twist himself into knots to carry this off. This has every appearance of a song intended for Sonny Til and The Orioles but although they were better singers than The Carnations they wouldn’t have been able to do much with it either.

Of course they’re hardly helped by the intrusive chimes, wandering guitar and the minimal support of the group as a whole who hum nicely enough, but offer nothing else.

Now there are a few moments on Clown Of The Masquerade that are better than we’re making it out to seem. The delivery on the first line of the bridge is excellent and the overall story about a guy who is tentatively waiting for the girl of his dreams to come to a decision about their impending relationship is solid enough in concept.

But we never get to really feel invested in any of it because it comes across as so uncoordinated… a songwriter reaching beyond his grasp to appear a sensitive and deep thinker without having the basic English lit skills to string the words together in a way that is far more pleasing than this.

Since his other records contained better musical attributes, maybe he should’ve started there and come up with a good song and then crafted the words to fit the catchier melody rather than start with some lofty sonnets and be forced to affix them to a bare bones track that will leave you cold.

Exile Or Happiness
Whenever someone is prone to dismissing the lyrical brilliance of a Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry or Kendrick Lamar (or fill in the blank of whoever you think is deserving of the utmost praise) we’ll refer you back to this long forgotten record where the lyrics were the obvious focal point to the detriment of everything else.

The two elements of song go hand in hand and while it’s certainly possible to have great vocal records that are barely intelligible lyrically the presence of words that fit seamlessly into the song’s melody is a skill that we too often take for granted.

We can appreciate the effort to be more than a simple “moon/June” rhyme scheme, but Clown Of The Masquerade forgets the number one requirement for songs is to be enjoyable to listen to and this is far too ponderous for that.

The funny thing about music is all songwriters have access to the same notes and the same dictionary as everyone else, yet the way in which they meld those two things together sometimes is as far apart as Mercury and Pluto.

The ones closest to the sun we never forget, while ones like this just seem to float into the abyss of a cold and distant space.