This track I decided right now is a total masterpiece. The band is The Cars, bulimics and after too long of a hiatus from my blog this song is Just What I Needed. Pop in your earbuds, click the link, hit play and let’s have a journey.
The palm muted electric guitar ticks away the eighth notes straight down the middle with metronomic precision to spark it off, fed into a very light reverb. Now what’s epically cool in my book is that the part is played so straight, so perfectly in time and to the casual listener might sound almost like a machine until you listen to that reverb and hear the minute changes in aspect of the attack transient of the guitar pick ever so slightly hitting the strings at a different angle, reflected in how the reverb intonates. Take a second and just dig the musicality of that slightly random modulation of the reverb, coupled with the rhythmically precise pulsing if the guitar note. Damn.
Now, jumping out from both speakers the rhythm section blesses our ears with a single note, hit with power and intention, but restrained in its conservative cool singularity. It hits my ear like two guitar parts with almost the same amp settings, same chord panned hard left and hard right. Feels like it’s gated too because it speaks and then it’s totally gone. Love that the drummer hits only one note on the snare. So frigging cool.
Advancing a few bars we get this note doubled up to two hits and the bass player does a little octave jump on a few of them. (Or so it sounds the way the instruments interplay- could be just one of his notes being slightly softer)
Now, time to get on to the vocal. In this section our mono guitar pulse is switched to be played by our buddy in the left ear. There is still a little something down the middle, but what’s cool is you can hear the rock and roll coolness in the dynamics of how he’s strumming. He pushes and pulls the time ever so slightly which sounds like he’s chained back because he’s so ready to frigging rock. After the first part of that verse our friend on the right plays a slight variation on this part both in tone and in arrangement, adding to the build up. Whatever the bass player has got going on its totally hip because you can’t hear it as a bass per se, more of a high pulse of this eighth note theme.
Cool thing also I noticed about the drum part, his pattern is just a single hit on the snare all the way until that second part of the first verse where the guitar player on the right starts doing his thing. Dynamic build.
The vocal itself: cool ass slap delay fed to a bit of this kind of reverb that’s been so delectable on this track so far. He’s so hip in his performance, emphatic, singing the melody precisely but still frigging laid back and uninvolved. I think folks might have tried and failed to bottle this level of cool.
Ok, builds up to what COULD be a chorus, but it’s not, because these guys know about foreplay apparently. The frigging sound of those tom toms. So much ambience there, reigned in of course. And also, I’d like to point out, they are frigging LOUD in the mix. Obvious and hits your ear, the band backs off enough so that drum fill can build up to the…
Synth. Yes, we have arrived in the future, and the future is monophonic with rich oscillators sawing away straight down the middle. There is a little bit of stereo love in this part, but as its blended it hits really as one note. And this synth line is somehow on top of the song melodically while at the same time being out almost in front of the rest of the band. You can pull stuff like that off when you wait until the almost a quarter of the way through the song to let the guy play. Guitar-wise the guy on the left completely shuts up and then wails as a punctuation mark on each synth phrase. The right hand guitar man keeps up with our eighth note pulse, legato now, locked in with that hi-hat. Don’t worry he gets his time to shine as we move to the next verse-
Right hand guitar man now kills it on the one of every measure, then silent, then back on the one with the next chord to rip your face off. As we move to the second part of that verse he is building up with that eight-note pattern, sustaining out and crescendoing aided by our middle-man synth-man Stan.
Now check this out. The build to the chorus is so well laid that once it actually hits the band is actually slightly backed off, but the energy from that build up has now probably filtered down to your own fist which is most likely raised in the air, striking perfectly to the syncopated hits of the rhythm section in time for the answer back vocals emphatically agreeing that this indeed IS just what you needed.
Ride out the rest of the song here. It’s rich. If you’re looking for Waldo, just follow which instruments shoulder the load of the eighth notes throughout the song. Your head will bob to half notes, and your foot will take over putting quarter notes firmly on the floor. The lead guitar solos are fantastic and sparse. The LFO modulation knob on the synth gets turned up as the last note sustains out.
Some of my takeaways on this song is how a great arrangement performed with restraint can build up dynamically to a powerful burst, and how that restraint translates to a cool attitude, not over-indulgent, but powerful on its own without having to belabor the point.
Thanks for listening with me,