In yet more proof of something I already knew but keep needing to be reminded of, I was able to actually make a breakthrough with a couple of really completion-resistant songs I've been futzing with for a while by suddenly seeing them as part of a larger work - the usual 'concept album' approach. Of course, this is not saying that I'm actually writing another goddamn concept album, just that the only way I seem to be able to breathe life into a song as a solo writer (particularly with lyrics) is to have it reflect a facet of some larger theme and/or narrative.
Generally, my framework is like scaffolding that can be knocked away when the series of songs is complete, and the songs only function as a concept album if you're told in advance that it is. The concept is essentially just an organizing principle so that I can get everything in order and see what bits are missing in order to finish writing particularly stubborn songs. Figuring out where the boxes are is very useful in filling them.
It definitely came in handy on Selling the Downtown Dream, where I was able to step back and see a general theme emerging from the songs that were already written and figure out what connective tissue was missing and simply write to that. It actually produced a couple of the best songs on that album, so I've trusted the impulse ever since, sometimes to the great aggravation of my bandmates.
We'll see whether or not this particular new theme will have legs strong enough to allow me to write the lyrics/melodies for a decent number of the remaining proto-songs The Tappan Sea have in the hopper. The piecemeal approach sure is taxing. A whole new theme for each song? Honestly, who has that much to say?