Sunday, November 3, 2013

Song #410 of 9999 - Richard III by Supergrass

Song #410 of 9999

Title: Richard III
Artist: Supergrass
Year: 1997
Album: In It for the Money

As sophomore efforts go, you really can't do much better than Supergrass's In It for the Money. The Oxford-based band, who sadly went their separate ways in 2010, have produced a collection of songs with enough rough edges to require a steady supply of Band-Aids® but also enough energy to make sure you bleed out quickly. (Ladies and first official submission for over-the-top analogy of the year!) If you think a band like Oasis is good, this album will punch you in the face until you think again. (My second submission!) What I'm trying to say is this album is good. Really good.

In the UK (where such a band can still find success), "Richard III" was released as the second single from the record (of five!) and peaked at number 2. The song has nothing to do with Richard III the king or Richard III the play—it was simply a working title that stuck as the band felt it suited "the menacing tone of the song." (Thanks again, Wikipedia.) In fact, the lyrics really aren't important—they're more like words put in order to deliver the riveting vocal performance of Gaz Coombes.

But of course, it wouldn't be 9999 Songs if we didn't take a closer look at what makes the song sound "menacing." No super-tricks here—it's a method as old as Oxford itself: the tritone. Yes, our friend diabolus in musica pops up frequently in the music of bands like Black Sabbath but we don't typically hear such prominent use in Britpop. But considering In It for the Money opens with an organ playing a diminished chord, should we be surprised?

So here is the so-called tritone (three whole steps or "tones" as they are known by most of the Western world), bookending an arpeggiated diminished triad (shown in red) and serving as the intervallic relationship between the two power chords that alternate during the verse:

This chord relationship allows Coombes to sing a melody that descends by half-step and continues to outline the same diminished triad. (E-Eb-C-A). This descending half-step idea returns in the chord progression that follow the verse: C - Ab - G - C. The song is filled with sinister touches, including an eerie Theremin, some similarly eerie backing vocals, and a killer guitar break at the two-minute mark. Fun stuff from one of my favorite bands. (Author's note: if anyone out there wants to start a band that sounds just like this, I'm in.)

See you tomorrow in 2007.

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