Friday, April 5, 2013

Song #336 of 9999 - The Bones of an Idol by The New Pornographers

Song #336 of 9999 

Title: The Bones of an Idol
Artist: The New Pornographers
Year: 2005
Album: Twin Cinema

Somehow I failed to write about The New Pornographers' superb album Electric Version back when I was discussing 2003 so I made myself a promise to feature the Canadian supergroup this time around. Twin Cinema is as good as Electric Version (arguably better, but not for me) and there are a lot of interesting songs exploring a host of musical influences. The group always seems to be on the verge of becoming a punk band, a prog rock band, a power pop band—it's almost like they can't decide—and the blend is exhilarating at times.

I had a difficult time choosing a track to feature so I finally went with one with a particularly interesting harmonic structure: "The Bones of an Idol" is constructed entirely of major chords. I've always been intrigued by the idea of using just one type of chord (i.e. major, minor, dominant 7th, etc.) throughout an entire song. Since major and minor tonalities naturally produce a mix of major and minor chords, a constant stream of one chord type (in this case, major) serves to mask tonality and create a sense of tonal stasis. (This is very prevalent in the work of composers like Debussy.) The normal concepts of tension and relaxation become very diluted.

"The Bones of an Idol" is essentially in the key of G Major but its chord palette includes the non-diatonic major chords of E, F, Bb, and Eb in addition to the diatonic chords G, C and D. The chord progression unfolds like this (chords outside the key are in red):

Intro: G (I)    E (VI)
Verse: C (IV)  D (V)  Bb (bIII)  G (I)   E (VI)
           C (IV)  D (V)  Bb (bIII)  C (IV)  D (V)  Bb (bIII)
           G (I)    E (VI)  F (bVII)
Instrumental Break: C (IV)   G (I)   D (V)    F (bVII)   Bb (bIII)   C (IV)

So that's it! Can you think of another song that uses so many major chords without any minors? Or a lot of minors with no majors?


  1. Love that song - love that album from top to bottom. I reckon it's better than "Electric Version", but not by much. It's actually amazing just how great their albums are IMHO. 4 in a row from "Electric Version" through to "Together" inclusive.

  2. Yeah, I must admit that the last couple of albums haven't excited me as much but I always look forward to their output. And when I need a fix, I just go back to those early albums which are SO good.