Background: Two of my favorite musicians, Beck and Tom Waits, tend to use a very similar lyrical style. I have asked many people if there is a name for this style, as I imagine it is used quite often in poetry. I have yet to discover if there is a proper name, and so, I created my own term: Ambient Diction
am"bi'ent · dic"tion n.
Word choice which focuses on altering the tone of a poem, song, or story, and does nothing more. That is, the words themselves combine to form no specific meaning, but in the context of a sentenceculminate in a meaning comprised of nothing more than the connotations of its parts.
Make sure they play my theme song, I guess daisies will have to do
Just get me to New Orleans and paint shadows on the pews
Turn the spit on that pig and kick the drum and let me down
Put my clarinet beneath your bed 'til I get back in town
-Tom Waits, Tango Til' They're Sore
There is no reference point for which to create a meaning for these lyrics (ie, there is no story for which the individual terms have meaning). Rather, the song presents us with composite images (ie, "Turn the spit on that pig", "kick the drum", "'til I get back in town") which result in a seedy, chaotic with energy, early 20th century musician's life.
I'll be your chauffeur on a midnight drive
It takes a miracle just to survive
Buried animals call your name
You keep on sleeping
Through the poignant rain
I think we're going crazy
Her left eye is lazy
She looks so Israeli
Nicotine and gravy
-Beck, Nicotine & Gravy
Beck here seeks to create a world which is seemingly random and strange. The image "Buried animals call your name", for instance, serves no purpose other than to be creepy. The couplet "Her left eye is lazy / She looks so Isreali" simply shifts our typical image of a blonde/brunette "normal" girl to a unique, more interesting female. "Poingant rain", in my mind, brings up the image of rain falling very slowly, with each individual drop painfully clear. Combined with the sound of the song, a very interesting tone comes forth.
Here is an interesting variation on this theme:
Uncle Vernon, Uncle Vernon, independent as a hog on ice
He's a big shot down there at the slaughterhouse
Plays accordion for Mr. Weiss
Uncle Biltmore and Uncle William
Made a million during World War Two
But they're tightwads and they're cheapskates
And they'll never give a dime to you
Auntie Mame has gone insane
She lives in the doorway of an old hotel
And the radio is playing opera
All she ever says is "Go to hell"
-Tom Waits, Cemetary Polka
While these stanzas each represent one member of a rather interesting family, and while together each stanza makes sense (that is, if taken literally, the song makes sense), the point of these "family members" simply gives the song ambiance. Combined with the title, Cemetary Polka, it is evident that Waits is showing us gravestones of a single family. Fleshing out these relatives gives a composite tone to the song - one which is quirky, dark, and strange. The song isn't about anything in particular, and should rather inspire thoughts of the dead, our own relatives, and twisted archetypes from past generations.