I was listening to the ELP album "Black Moon" last night and made some observations that I'd like to share with you. Some are about form, some are about symbolism but they all have to do with damn fine songwriting and are worthy of notice however small and detailed.
The song under scrutiny: Affairs of the Heart (Geoff Downes, Greg Lake) from the album Black Moon (1992) by Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
A brief overview of the song's structure:
*I have decided to merge the pre-chorus and chorus since the latter is basically just the titular lyrics on the song's main chords. Think not too much of it, titles are just word-symbols, as long as were all on the same page.
This is pretty typical song structure. But there are two things about this track that work great:
A. Musical economy: With the exception of a bass and a few synths showing up in verse B, this is basically an acoustic guitar track. The first percussion only come in at the Bridge and they are still very sparse. The final Verse (C) has some drums—again no more than the bare minimum—but because of the previous sparseness, the (softly mixed) drum hit that comes in the fourth beat of Verse C communicates the exact amount of subtle power that the song needs. At the end of the Verse, the snare roll introducing the Pre-chorus is a truly cherishable moment. Meanwhile the synths are keeping the perfect balance between melodic and harmonic fills at just the right places to make the song uplifting but never grandiose.
Am I making too much of this? Well, think for a moment how would you produce such a song? It's very tempting to go big: think full string explosion (perhaps even live orchestra) and larger than life drums. But the song is not about that, despite the music surely being able to carry such grand gestures. The song is about watching your step, being unsure. In such situations you'd probably want to tread lightly.
The lesson here: be economical, always keep an overview of your material, don't get carried away by the music; a song is also about the lyrics.
B. The transposition in the bridge, particularly, where to this transposition leads us.
The harmonically-inclined among you might have noticed the transposition takes as from the major key to the homonymous minor, namely from E to Em. While this may not go down in the music history books, it is nonetheless rather symbolic. Can you guess why?
Remember what I said before about lyrics? No one is too smart in affairs of the heart, every affair has its ups and downs. The minor key symbolises those downs but it's within the same one affair with the same one person, ergo one key.
Am I making too much out of this too? Could be. Does it work like a motherf***er? It sure does. And given the artistry on the rest of the album I'm willing to bet this is no happy accident. There's some thought behind these tracks, that's why I'll write about another one of them next.