Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Alan Parsons Project - "Old and Wise" (1982)

What a coup to have Colin Blunstone around to sing this one, his voice, sounding much as it did fifteen years earlier, so familiar a presence not just in this song's style, but in its sense of exploration as well.

After the instrumental intro, the verse starts off with a two-line rhyme. Instead of developing a longer verse out of these materials, however, they are abandoned and we are instead in a new key where we hear a four-line rhyme (rhyming lines two and four) that sounds like the chorus is starting already. Next comes the refrain line, though, and it seems only now that the chorus is truly beginning and that the previous lines were part of a broken verse structure.

In the first eight bars of what is perhaps, then, the chorus proper, there are three lines of text, the aforementioned refrain line (four bars) followed by a rhyming pair (two bars each).*

And oh, when I'm old and wise
Bitter words mean little to me
Autumn winds will blow right through me

The four-bar section then repeats, but it's followed by two lines where this time line three rhymes with line one instead of line two.

And someday in the mist of time
When they ask me if I knew you
I'd smile and say you were a friend of mine

This would have been a very clever way of creating closure for the chorus, but more clever still is the fact that the harmonies do not resolve on the last line and in fact shift into a modulating section where the words continue on without a break. It is at first as though we are in a bridge, but musical development is almost immediately truncated and the title words then appear again in a rhyme that lands the song back in its home key.

And the sadness would be lifted from my eyes
Oh, when I'm old and wise

This whole magnificent structure repeats once with slightly altered words and the song then comes to an end with an instrumental coda.

* Using the same word in both lines, but the intent to rhyme here does seem apparent.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Korgis - "Art School Annexe" (1979)

Lots of Korgis stuff up on iTunes. I'd never heard anything predating "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" (their top 20 U.S. hit from 1980) before and this track, as it turns out, is a treat. Was the b-side of their second single.

Starts off in new wave retro mode with muted (surf) rhythm guitar. Keyboardist is vamping in a retro style, but his tone is not very retro and the drums don't sound retro either. They don't have to sound retro, of course, and it sounds fine, but things end up working out in a different way when the retro style suddenly vanishes in the chorus.

For the first two lines, the chorus sounds like a power pop song, but the words are unusual and it could definitely be compared to Jonathan Richman. On the third line of the chorus, though, the song suddenly opens up into this post-progressive, hard rock/pop mode with overdubbed keyboards, power chords, and drum fills.

That's a long way to go in a minute and four seconds! Song is pleasantly constructed from there as well with a second verse, repeat of the chorus, and then a retro style guitar solo over the verse chords. With no third verse, it just goes to the chorus again afterward and, in fact, repeats the second part of the chorus as though the song was almost over already. To flesh it out, they play on the "art school" subject matter in a weird coda that extends the progressive rock aspect of the song with keyboard chords over a floating beat, a bass solo, and, finally, a fake ending.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Michael Angelo - "Oceans of Fantasy" (1977)

Key center is so seamlessly fluid in this song. Let's just look at the chords and see what's happening.

The opening riff is in G, but the verse begins with this four-bar progression (each chord lasting two beats in four-four time):

A minor/Bb major/F major/C major/Bb major/F major/Bb major/G major

Here, we're obviously starting off with iii/IV/I in the key of F major, but it's a weak cadence and the chords keep moving. The C major chord sounds more like a point of rest than you'd think it might, and there's something to be said for thinking of this progression in terms of C mixolydian.

The G major chord at the end does signal a key center shift, but it happens as the chords keep coming at two beats each:

D major/E minor/F major/C major

After the preceding four-bar phrase, D major on the downbeat of bar five here definitely sounds like the tonic. The tonal center quickly moves away, however, with the F major chord in the next bar. As it turns out, the F and C chords here function as bVII and IV in G, as the verse then ends with the title words sung over these three chords:

A minor/F major/G major

G is definitely felt as the tonic here, with the F major chord meaning that we are now more certainly dealing with the mixolydian mode.

The bridge that follows moves back and forth between two chords only, E minor and F major. This curiously echoes the A minor to Bb major progression played at the beginning of the verse. Like that progression, it sounds like iii and IV chords (in what would here be the key of C major). The final F chord of the bridge works as a simple pivot, though, resuming its function as a bVII chord when the song slides back up to G major. The song is now in its home key once again and the opening riff is repeated.

In addition to the harmonic fluidity, there's is something to be said for the seamlessness of the metric irregularities in this song, too, and how both of these pleasingly relate to the song's subject matter.