Tag Archives: band names

The Indefinite Article – Music Column (Guardian)

The Guardian

“Kings Of Leon sounds suitably grand at first, but then the lack of a definite article allows doubts to creep in – I mean, which kings of Leon? There could be hundreds of them!”

Sticks and stones, you will have been told, can break your bones, but names can never hurt you. True, perhaps, in everyday life (although you’d have to go someone to break bones with a stick), not so in pop music. Names can do serious damage. There’s one very good reason why Parisian baggy revivalists Shit Browne may struggle to make it onto daytime radio playlists, for instance.

But at least they’re trying. Better than hedging your bets, like the increasing number of bands, or individual artists, who remove the traditional ‘The’ from their name to become vague, indefinite articles – something, yet nothing. Klaxons, Liars, Foals, Editors, Villagers, Hurts, Battles, Kisses – the list goes on.

In their desire to sound fashionably vague, I fear they are selling themselves short.

Villagers – what? Just ‘villagers’? Any old random villagers who happen to be wandering round a non-specific village? Editors? Just some stray editors who happen to be loitering in a corridor after being recently made redundant? Surely they should have the self-confidence to be THE Villagers, the only residents of a small settlement that we need to be concerning ourselves with, or THE Editors, go-getting decision makers who say ‘HOLD THE FRONT PAGE OF ROCK’N’ROLL!’ But no, instead it’s just a vague, non-commital noun, reluctant to offend, inspire or pin its colours to any discernible mast. Well, at least it suits their music, a cynic might add.

And what are we to make of Liars – some people who may have told a lie at some point? Well that narrows it down to, well, roughly the entire human race. Whereas if they were The Liars we would glean that they are no ordinary fibbers, truth-economists or mere white liars, but noteworthy falsehood-merchants whose duplicity is worthy of our respect, even fear, if not admiration.

Then there’s Hurts. Impressively monochrome synth-pop duo they may be, but the name sounds like the class drip who has fallen over in the playground and can only bleat ‘hurts’ while pointing to a slight graze on his knee. What hurts? He hurts? It hurts? Hitting your thumb with a hammer hurts? 30 Years of hurts? How are we supposed to identify with your pain if it is so infuriatingly non-specific?

Kings Of Leon sounds suitably grand at first, but then the lack of a definite article allows doubts to creep in – I mean, which kings of Leon? There could be hundreds of them! They could also be among the less distinguished monarchs of Leon. One of them may even be a much-despised King of Leon who mercilessly taxed Leon’s poor to finance war against the neighbouring Kingdom of Gavin.

All told, as naming policies go, it’s pretty poor. Would we have got the same punchy first impression from classic bands down the ages if they had been called Jam, Who, or Strokes, or even Bob Marley and Wailers?

Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with leaving something to the imagination. So I would like to announce the ‘soft’ launch of the soon-to-be-‘trending’ practice of calling your band ‘A _______’ Indie fans of a ripe vintage will remember a band called A House, even if they don’t remember their music. So how about A Villager, or A Liar, or A Boy With A Thorn In His Side (any post-emo milksops out there? You can have that one) A Crystal Castle? A Scissor Sister? A Klaxon?

What feelings do such names conjure up? Intrigue? Mystery? Fascination? Excitement even?