Tag Archives: Elbow

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow: 5 Fantastic Codas

You can’t beat a good coda. That point in the song by which everyone is swaying and drinking it in. You’re just sort of basking in the setting of the sun (regardless of how elaborate that may be). Pop music has a great history of codas – of evoking just that ‘again! again!’ feeling that can grab people when they hear such a dynamite passage.

The Who’s Tommy ends with the best material on the entire album, with the “Listening to You” section that spurred a thousand fist pumps. The coda to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”  is the ultimate stuff of standing arm in arm and belting it out, dominating  a majority of the song and employing a 2-minute-plus-long fadeout. When The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” gets to “sending out an S.O.S.”, you wonder to yourself ‘why isn’t this the chorus?’

It seems sometimes that artists tend to hang onto the best stuff to make it the last thing you remember when you’re done the song. Partially, it’s the mantra-like repetition for what is usually a pretty short phrase that works fantastically on its own, but provides a very solid frame work for everything to ramp up around it. Given that, here five great examples of fantastic finishes:

The codas have the greatest impact if they come at the end of the songs, of course, but I have earmarked the approximate times they start if you just want to hear them by themselves.

1) Dirty Ghosts – Ropes That Way (2:53)

Yeah, sometimes it’s just a chorus. Throughout most of the song, you get one or two repetitions of the chorus, sparsely accompanied before heading back into the too-cool-for-school delivery of Allyson Baker of the verses. It’s at the end, however, where you get to glory in the chorus as that little bit of overlap between repetitions amps you up and you get that sense of incredible forward momentum. Beginning with the bass and drums, the synths lay a speedy pattern down, and the electric guitar comes thundering to life underneath as they crash headlong into the end of the song.

2) Yes – Starship Trooper (5:35)

One of Yes’ signature tunes, it is, of course, ten minutes long with three distinct (named) sections, the coda comprises the entirety of section three (“Wurm”), and a good chunk of the song. It begins with Steve Howe playing the an incredible descending chord progression on his flanged guitar, while the rest of the band slowly wakes up around him, alternately playing with him and then against him rhythmically, with Bill Bruford changing emphases constantly and Tony Kaye intermittently introducing some atmosphere on the organ. The final minute is where Howe finally lets go of playing the chords himself and gets into a tasteful solo, which the track fades out on. It’s remarkable to see how they play within and around the basic guitar track while building the the energy up, but this one really comes down to the fact that I could listen to that progression for days.

3) Dream Theater – Learning to Live (10:30)

Another long entry, this was the final track on Images & Words and a showpiece track that runs quite the gamut of musical passages through its 11:30 length. It all leads up to to the coda, however. With exactly one minute left to go in this song, John Petrucci unleashes this unreal, uplifting riff on his guitar that just seems to climb furiously higher and higher with every iteration, as a chorus of voices come in around it, the keyboards handle the chords and another electric guitar rips loose underneath. The works fabulously as a cathartic, unifying moment for a song that feels like it goes kind of all over the place in its preceding ten minutes, and brings everything into a sharp focus for the grand finale.

4) David Bowie – Memory of a Free Festival (3:30)

From way back on Space Oddity, this album closer is based around chords emanating from a child’s electric chord organ as Bowie recalls his experience at a music festival he performed at (notably that he “kissed a lot of people that day”). At pretty much the exact halfway mark, he’s done with his remembrances and gets everyone ready to have some fun as he repeats over and over that “the sun machine is coming down/and we’re gonna have a party!”, in a perfect sort of groovy mantra for the era. The instrumentation expands as Mick Ronson launches into a jazzy solo filling up the corners of the song over handclaps and a multitude of voices, as the chords get emphasized with more guitar and big cymbal crashes from Woody Woodmansey. By the end, you’re left so pumped for a party that, if you can’t be at theirs, you’re gonna have to start one of your own.

5) Elbow – One Day Like This (3:30)

Pure, unadulterated and honest saccharine, Guy Garvey recounts with clear fondness the experience of waking up beside the person you love. So much so that an orchestra needs to be employed with a repeated chorus that will refuse to let the smile on your face do anything but widen. Over chords already established earlier in the song, Garvey adopts a slow chants of “throw those curtains wide/one day like this a year would see me right” on top of multitude of backing vocals singing the same and a string section playing sweet octaves. After not too long, he reasserts the song’s main chorus of “Holy cow/I love your eyes!” on top of everything else, creating the best of possible vibes everywhere you turn.

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A meme made long.

I’ve been dragging my heels on this meme (conferred on me by the incomparible Alex Gunning), so I thought I’d make up for it by elaborating on it in blog form.

The 12 albums that have stuck with me:

(All images from wikipedia.org)

The Who – Quadrophenia

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A key part in the 1970s wave of double albums with black and white covers, Quadrophenia has been, for quite some time. The recurring musical themes established in the title track and their reprises with key phrases lend that grandiose and classical feeling to the proceedings, yelling the story of the mod named Jimmy. The quartet have never been better technically as they were on here, at a confluence with just the right amount of songwriting prowess and self indulgence in Pete Townshend’s head. They popularized the rock opera with Tommy, but perfected it here.

Tracks to check out: “The Real Me”, “The Punk and the Godfather”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”

They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

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Back in ’88, fewer people were enjoying the indie rock sound, but when they did, they often would turn to two guys named John from Brooklyn to get their fill. Lincoln runs the gamut from power pop on “Ana Ng” to the weird jazzy bellow of “You’ll Miss Me” to the martial beat of “Pencil Rain” and demonstrates TMBG’s knack on only their sophomore effort for writing catchy tunes with bizarre wordplay. Spread across 19 short songs, Lincoln is a lesson in accessible eclecticism and is just loads of fun to listen to.

Tracks to check out: “Ana Ng”, “Cage & Aquarium”, “They’ll Need A Crane”, “Kiss Me, Son of God”

Egg – Egg

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Deep in the mists of prog can be found a short-lived project with only three albums to its name and three members to its roster – Egg. Having seen the infancy of prog begin, they immediaty dove headfirst into baffling time signatures, symphonic aspirations sonic experimentalism with their organ-bass-drum trio and exploded onto the scene with their self-titled debut. Barely organized chaos is the order of the day as bassist Mont Campbell attempts to bring some sort of order with his airy vocals. The album is rough n ready and has a sort of urgency and live feel to it that gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like to see them live and feel as if you were part of something new happening.

Tracks to check out: “Fugue in D Minor”, “The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous”

Genesis – Genesis Live

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I was waffling back and forth on which Genesis album to put on this list, as my interest in early Genesis got me not only into prog, but also a good portion of the music I listen to today. Problem is, I find each of their early albums to have their hits and misses. Except for this one. All killer, no filler, Genesis Live is the only live album released during Peter Gabriel’s tenure with the band and features their best tracks from the previous three albums (save one omission), with the players just on fire on all counts. Gabriel’s stage banter is brief but witty, and these live renditions of the longer songs in their oeuvre have a great deal more energy to them than their studio counterparts – not to mention guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins getting to put their own stamp on the thunderous closer, “The Knife”, which was released before they joined the band.

Tracks to check out: “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, “The Knife”

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model

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Costello’s acerbic wit combined with his snotty snarl and his backing band at the height of their punky game makes his sophomore album one of the best I’ve ever heard. While Punk’s poet laureate offers a treatise on the nature of love and celebrity worship (with lyrical barbs like “You want her broken with her mouth wide open/’cause she’s this year’s girl” and “Sometimes love is just a tumor/You got to cut it out”), the Attractions are busy laying the frenetic groundwork on top of which it all sits (I swear, the rhythm section took out every rest they had on “Lipstick Vogue”), while creating enough earworms to have you bopping long after you’re done listening. To be honest, I stopped for the most part with Costello after this album, because he got it perfect with this one.

Tracks to check out: “This Year’s Girl”, “Pump It Up”, “Lipstick Vogue”

The Decemberists – Picaresque

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Strangely enough, all of my top favourite Decemberists tracks are on other albums, but none of them are quite as consistent as Picaresque, which shows them in all their jaunty glory. You get bombast on “The Infanta”, an epic sea shanty on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, a quieter lovelorn paean on “The Engine Driver” and some sort-non-specific old-timey stomp on “The Sporting Life”. Every song takes place in its own enjoyable world, rich with little words and sonic details that evoke that particular atmosphere, as well as an undoubtedly catchy melody and a few terms you’ll have to look up after the fact.

Tracks to check out: “The Infanta”, “16 Military Wives”, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

Van der Graaf Generator – Godbluff

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2 sides, 4 songs, roughly 10 minutes each. This symmetrical layout provides the framework for my favourite of the many Van der Graaf albums that I love. Though they always employed a somewhat unusual instrumentation, this album features the usual organ-drums-sax trio with the addition of singer Peter Hammill on clavichord, which provides plenty of rich menacing counterpoint. The album documents the horrors of war over top of wailing sax riffs, gnarled organ and the bellowing and caterwauling of Hammill stretching his voice in any direction it will go, each song having plenty of time to establish its own particular haunting narrative, lyrically and sonically.

Track to check out: “Scorched Earth”

Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971

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One man, an acoustic guitar and a piano onstage at Toronto’s Massey Hall is all it took to make this one of my favourite live albums. With no back-up and a single instrument to sing along to, Young’s songwriting is on full display from the word go, as he runs through his early catalogue and (then) new songs that would appear on his blockbuster Heart of Gold. His self-effacing stage banter is effortlessly Canadian and charming, and every performance beautiful in its simplicity and allowance for the melodies to shine through.

Tracks to check out: “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”

Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

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A fine showpiece of modern songcraft. Each song is quintessentially British and has many little studio touches that catapult them from good to fantastic. Guy Garvey’s husky croon touches on love of all kinds on this album: past, present, future, unrequited and platonic; all of this is backed by the appropriate somber piano melody or orchestral bombast that evolves as the song’s story goes on and on. One of the most consistent track-to-track albums I’ve ever heard that tackles as many different moods as this one does.

Tracks to check out: “The Bones of You”, “Grounds For Divorce”, “One Day Like This”

Muse – Absolution

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From the introduction consisting solely of military stomping and incoherent orders being yelled, I knew that I was listened to something that was going to be right in my wheelhouse. A concept album based around the theme of different people’s experiences of the end of the world with some of the craziest and most piercing riffs I’d ever heard in my life, with a falsetto to put Raine Maida’s to shame? Hell yes.

Tracks to check out: “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Hysteria”, “Butterflies & Hurricanes”

Radiohead – Kid A

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This one my first Radiohead album proper, but I actually skirted around Radiohead for sometime, using Thom Yorke’s solo electronic effort, The Eraser to kind of get in through the back door. When I was done with that, I wanted more Yorke and more electronic stuff, so what better way to turn? Radiohead’s cryptic masterpiece is unrivaled in the intense and paranoid atmosphere it creates with some beats, some synths, a studio and virtually no guitars. One of those albums that teleports you completely to another world.

Tracks to check out: “Everything In Its Right Place”, “The National Anthem”, “Idioteque”

Our Lady Peace – Naveed

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Probably the album on this list that’s been with me the longest and still one of my favourite rock albums ever. from the dizzying insanity of “The Birdman” to the intro to “Neon Crossing” which, at 15, was the craziest thing I’d ever heard up ’till that point, Naveed is a wonderful piece of alternative rock that always seems to zig when you think it’s gonna zag. Guitarist Mike Turner’s riffs seem to emanate from a different planet, Raine Maida caterwauls and bemoans the human condition while Jeremy Taggart fills in every conceivable space with unreal drum fills (especially impressive considering he was only 18 at the time).

Tracks to check out: “The Birdman”, “Starseed”, “Denied”

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