Saturday, 5 January 2008

Pop dissection

Extract from a note from The Guardian from Saturday January 5, 2008.

On his Radio 3 show Discovering Music Charles Hazlewood performs what he calls "open heart surgery" on a famous piece of music "examining all the guts and tissue that go into it before stitching it back up again and doing a complete performance". It's great approach and one that makes the intimidating world of classical music accessible. How Pop Works eseentially does the same thing but to Amy Winehouse and Rhianna instead of Wagner and Ravel. "My fundamental belief is there is only two types of music -great music and terrible music," says Charles Hazlewood. "The very idea that if you like drum and bass you won't like Wagner and if you like Wagner you won't like Aphex Twin is bollocks."

Artic Monkeys I bet that you look good on the dancefloor
Best bit: Alex Turner brilliant debunking of looking cool with the line "dancing like a robot from 1984".
Autopsy: "What's so clever is it starts with absolute deluge of F sharp minor. Then finally when Alex Turner comes in it's actually on a C sharp major chord, which is what's known as the dominant chord in music theory. Then you're made to wait to get that big deluge of that tonic chord again until the chorus which is a brilliant way of building your expectation, holding you back like an elastic band and then letting you ping."

Amy Winehouse Back to Black
Best bit: Amy wailing "black... black" not unlike Johny the Fast Show painter who fell apart at the very mention of the word.
Autopsy: " It's all built around one D minor chord with a lovely, really loose swung bass. The combination of the bass and the repeated chord -which might be on the beat or off the beat depending on which way you view it- is fantastic. There's something very powerful about songs that are built out of a very concentraded tonality. Back To Black never deviates from it and it forces you into a very narrow tunnel. When it does go to a different place there's an almost seismic sense of relief."

Radiohead Paranoid Android
Best bit: When the maudlin, moaning section lurches back into the world of crashing guitars.
Autopsy: "There are parallels between them and composers like Pierre Boulez or Maurice Ravel- people who have an extraordinary ear for colour and harmony. Paranoid Android is a post-progressive rock symphony in three movements; it's got these three sections that have only a small amount of family connections. Add into the mill their extraordinary sonic imagination and the way they chose to grind in a very hard electric guitar sound just on one syllable of one word of one line of a lyric and then its gone again.

The Prodigy Poison
Best bit: Keith's man-possessed-by-evil-demons scream.
Autopsy: "What Prodigy are doing is some fantastic old-as-the-hills form of music called counterpoint -which is one of the most mathematical constructs in all music. It centres on a type of music called a fugue. The basic way it works is you set out your melodic idea then, once that idea is being aired, another voice comes in with the same idea but a different pitch, then the voice that had the initial idea has to make accompanying material to decorate the original idea. It's done with the most amazing amount of sophistication but at the same time it's a rebel rousing, terrifying piece of poisonous music. Someone like Mahler built up the same high velocity but he'd then give you a portion of time when you can reagroup. The Prodigy are just about pushing you further to the abyss."