Title: 6 Underground
Artist: Sneaker Pimps
Album: Becoming X
Yesterday, I wrote about some of the melodious loudness that emanated from the mid-90s with the post-grunge movement. It seemed that everyone had their amps turned up to 11 but were doling out simple tunes intent on worming their way into your ears.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond (mostly), some particularly laidback musicians were working out some really complex (and often sinister-sounding) melodies. Emerging from Bristol, artists like Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky ushered in the trip-hop sound, co-opting beats from hip-hop but cutting the BPM while incorporating elements of jazz, dub and electronica. By 1996, there were quite a few of these bands and they were making their way to the lucrative shores of the USA.
One of the bands that made it to my CD player was Sneaker Pimps, whose sound was defined by the helium-filled tone quality of singer Kelli Dayton. While I personally prefer "Tesko Suicide," it was "6 Underground" that put the band on the map and it is worth talking about for its unique use of "Golden Girl," a John Barry composition featured in the James Bond film Goldfinger.
The tune opens with the sample: a five-note harp motive (D-A-E-F#-Bb) set above a cluster of strings. A beating-heart bass drum helps define one of the more tense settings I've heard in the opening strains of a pop song. When the bass settles in, we get a sense of the tonal center (G), but Dayton's melody continually vacillates between minor and major, especially during the chorus. Listen to the word "overground" (G-F-Bb) and then "watch this space" (C-D-B) and you'll hear what I mean. At 2:54, we find the genesis of the song in another sample from Barry's work: French horns sustaining Gmaj (G-B-D) and Ebmaj7 (Eb-G-Bb-D). Notice the common tones from the earlier melody. Only now, Dayton sings her minor melody (G-F-Bb) over the Gmaj chord and the dissonance is even more pronounced. This teeter-tottering of the diatonic mode gives the track a fairly unstable nucleus, which I find to be quite thrilling, especially in this context.