I was conscious of writing this blog post in the middle of the night as I was trying to remain unconscious. The cat and my bladder were not cooperating with that whole sleep thing, but at least something productive came of the exercise.
I’ve been listening to The Killers’ album Day & Age this past week. The first few listens of a new album are always a bit awkward. I don’t catch all the lyrics right away and need several listens in order to feel the groove of the songs. Now that I’ve played Day & Age over and over for a week, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions: a) I’m really digging it. The lyrics tell intriguing stories; the music is distinctive and compelling. And b) Clichés can be used to masterful effect and not come across as clichés at all.
Let me explain that second conclusion. When it comes to writing, one of the pieces of advice given to writers during the editing process is to eliminate all clichés. We shouldn’t be turning phrases that have been turned before. While I tend to agree with this sentiment for the most part, rules are made to be broken (ahem! – Cliché Alert!). Clichés that are thrown about without any thought can make writing flat, but clichés that are used with purpose can seem fresh and not cliché at all.
There are a few clichés woven into the songs on Day & Age (i.e. “cut the cord,” “burning with desire,” “chips are down,” impending doom,” “my darkest hour”), but all of them work seamlessly with the surrounding lyrics, which are quirky and contain interesting juxtapositions. (“Saw Cinderella in a party dress, but she was looking for a nightgown,” “Are we human, or are we dancers?”, “You sold your soul, like a Roman vagabond” – which I misheard as “Roman bag of bones”.) The clichés work as markers of familiarity in the stories presented.
I dare say, clichés are the comfort food of our language. Used sparingly and with forethought, they give the reader (or listener) instant recognition and an easy entrance into a story. If over-indulged in in an unthinking manner, they can lead to bloat and boredom. The Killers have managed the former beautifully on Day & Age.