Sunday, September 20, 2015

Evocative Music

What Is Love?

What is it about certain songs that evoke empathy in the listener? Is it the perfect amalgamation of intricately composed music and complementary lyrics? Is it the composer’s integrity and influence of context in writing the song? Or does it simply come down to the idiosyncratic performance of the artists themselves?

Evocative songs target a gamut of audiences, are not genre specific and embody a range of relatable themes. Paramore for example can persuade their fans to feel heartbroken, angry, complacent and victorious within the capacity of one album. The Beatles hold the power to evoke an array of seemingly endless emotions: excitement, nostalgia, introspection, regret, a sense of spirituality and of course, love.

I’ve noticed though that as listeners we gravitate towards particular songs in order to match a relevant mood; we want to feel understood in times of hopelessness, instability or love and lust. While this quality is potent in itself, what I find even more fascinating are the rare songs that give the listener no choice but to feel what the vocalist expresses in the song, whether invited or not.

Love is a common theme in pop music and often the go-to concept for lyricists seeking to make a quick buck (particularly in the music industry today). But what is love? And how do we as listeners know what it feels like if we haven’t yet experienced it for ourselves? Countless musicians have lamented this conundrum in hundreds, maybe thousands of songs over the years. Foreigner even wrote a well-known power ballad about it.

In considering which artists have compelled me to ‘fall in love’ in four minutes or less, three songs immediately come to mind: ‘As The World Falls Down’ by David Bowie, ‘Universe’ by Kind of Pluto, and ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ by The Pretenders.

For those of you who have never experienced love or romance first-hand, allow yourself to become lost in the rhythmic storytelling of these songs, and you’ll understand what it feels like to be both loved and in love.

‘As The World Falls Down’ - David Bowie


Imagine you’re sitting on a cramped subway, desperately seeking a mental escape for the remainder of your journey home after a long day’s work. You scroll through your iPod playlist for something elegant and serene. “Ah! Now we’re talking,” you think to yourself as you settle on David Bowie’s ‘As the World Falls Down’. You pop your headphones in and allow your mind to escape the hustle and bustle of this overcrowded city vessel… at least for the next three minutes and forty seconds.

The song’s constant beat in 4/4 time has you tapping your finger gently on your leg in your conscious state, while every second beat sees you sway gently from side to side inline with the carriage’s movement along the track. As you close your eyes, you slowly fall into a fantasy of which you’d never consciously imagined before. You see your perfect match, a man of unfamiliar appearance, moving in graceful strides towards you across a wide, softly lit space, through a sea of blurry figures, - his eyes locked on yours the entire time. This astounding person takes your hands as you stand there breathlessly; it’s as if time has frozen and you’re the only two people in the room.

The subway ride continues, and the beat leads you further into your reverie. As your head falls slowly and sways in 2/4 time, the corners of your mind tell you it is rested peacefully upon this man’s chest, your eyes closed, feeling completely at ease.

The song’s subtle fade out, avoiding the cadence typical of so many contemporary love songs, allows your dream to come to an unobtrusive end… unless you’re listening to this song on repeat, in which case, your existence in this dream-state is essentially endless, and your ability to feel adored can continue.


The slow touch of the piano keys, producing treble notes of different octaves sound not only like drops of dewy condensation as they drip off the petals of a pastel rose in the fresh morning light, but the gentle caress of a kind lover. The delicate melody seemingly alludes to a thoughtful, fresh Sunday morning in a sunbathed room, two lovers cuddling as they look out a thinly veiled window to a placid scenery. In this moment, it is the two lovers alone, and it is comfortable and blissfully serene.

The powerful bass, holding every third note over two beats mimics the strengthening of a deep bond between two lovers, while the electric guitar creates an emotive crescendo, building your own passion to the highest possible point; this marks the exhilarating point in a new relationship when the chance of falling in love is at its peak. The crescendo marks the journey upon rocky terrain into love, while the diminuendo marks the ease felt when the feeling is reciprocated by the right person, leading you out of the lonely desert and to the wide, grassy meadow of which your love can now grow.

Not only does Bowie employ visual imagery to describe what he wants you to see in his romanticised world, but so too does he describe the specific process of falling in love in its simplest and most beautiful form, quite implicitly through the metaphoric descriptions of his universe. The lyrics convey the intensity of his adoration for you: essentially, you are the air he breathes, the water he drinks, the land upon which he walks, the stars he gazes to at night. Without you, he simply could not exist. [To prove this theory, listen to Bowie’s ‘Within You’, also featured on the Labyrinth soundtrack.]

Bowie makes promises, and unlike your past lovers, you know he intends to keep them. [When I refer to Bowie in this sense, I refer to him as the voice of the fantasy realm created in this song, not Bowie the composer.] His evocative and gentle tone, expressed with buttery vocals details the lengths he will go to nurture the relationship, protect your heart and remind you of your self worth.

‘I’ll paint you mornings of gold /

I’ll spin you Valentine evenings’

Without you, his world is without merit. In fact, he goes so far as to attribute parts of the universe to your own body, and project his love for you as far as the universe will allow.

‘I’ll place the sky within your eyes…
I’ll place the moon within your heart…
I’ll leave my love between the stars…’

Quite simply, you are his universe.

Bowie juxtaposes his pure feelings with your past heartbreak. He understands why you may be reluctant to let your emotional walls down – he’s psychoanalysed you; however, this isn’t the emotional manipulation you may have experienced in past relationships, no. Here, Bowie shows you exactly what love is by reminding you of what it is not.

‘As the pain sweeps through /
Makes no sense for you /
Every thrill is gone /
Wasn’t too much fun at all /
But I’ll be there for you /
As the world falls down.’

Not only is Bowie, in reality, an incredible musician and a convincing actor, he is quite simply one of the most perceptive lyricists of our time. The interconnectedness of songs such as this, complementing supporting songs on the Labyrinth soundtrack, prove the depth of his lyrical expertise, his value of the English language and expanse of his ability to empathise with lonely and loving souls alike.

‘Universe’ - Kind of Pluto


The acoustic guitar leads the 4/4 time in this song, the beat accentuated by the presence of varying percussion - namely, cymbals which challenge the monotonous backbone of your standard pop song’s beat. The light and unexpected crashing of the cymbals conveys an image of exploding fireworks, connoting the excitement and unpredictability of new love.

The percussion’s sudden silence before the commencement of each verse allows lead singer Steven Gates to vocally paint you the picture of a beautiful, imagined landscape without distraction. The silence also resembles the anticipation and heart-stopping moments one can expect to experience when holding onto (potentially) ‘the one’. It is reminiscent of hanging onto your lover’s every word, whereas the continuity of the gentle drums eases the listener back into a state of comfort, imagining the solidarity of their nuevo amor.


The reverb of the acoustic guitar at the very beginning of the song, coupled with the wave-effect of the electric guitar’s tremolo bar narrates the resonate love between two people. Everything around these lovers is a blur as they walk hand in hand, their understanding of the world around them uncomplicated by a vignette perspective, and focussing solely on one another.

Gates’ vocal intonation complements the music and lyrics well: fragility, hope, frustration, quiet introspection, even a little audaciousness all delicately align with the tone of the song’s lyric. At times, his vocals even express a sense of surprise for the absolute resonance of his love for you.

The structure and auditory build-up of the song effectively complement this tone, actively evoking from the listener the emotions one would imagine the singer to have experienced when writing this piece.

In short, Steven Gates’ vocal performance is an integral instrument in itself, taking the listener on an emotional journey where the understanding and true feeling of love is the destination.

‘Universe’, in its lyrical abstractedness appears at first to be a string of disconnected ideas, symbolically linked by one central theme.

‘Clouds are dripping from the sky / it’s magnificent outside
Nothing could be closer than the two of us.’

In actuality, the skillful, ethereal nature of these lyrics is reminiscent of Bowie's 'As the World Falls Down' in its structure. The overwhelming sense of power headed by Gates’ universe is juxtaposed with love itself. While the Earth’s creation is awe-inspiring to the majority, to this quixotic pair, their togetherness is all that matters; their connection is their world.

‘We’ll embrace every resistance / and malice is forbidden
We’ll snigger at existence / yeah, we are our own religion.’

The song is not without its fairytale elements as Gates alludes to the idealistic genre in all its innocence in the crescendo. ‘Concede in happiness / believe in ever after’ is then juxtaposed with the melodramatic ‘set fire to the floorboards / and be hanging from the rafters’, proving the force of passion and masculinity within an otherwise achingly sensitive soul.

Gates, portraying the voice of your ideal romantic partner describes every spectacular scenario as an experience he shares with you, and only you. This is a man you want to trust, and can with every part of your being.

Outside the realm of the song, Gates is, in appearance, your characteristic Australian male. His performance of such tender lyrics, written by the man himself, persuades the female listener to believe that a pure, two-way love exchange exists in real life, adding to his textual integrity as a lyricist and performer. Ladies, there’s hope for us yet.

‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ - The Pretenders


The constant drum in 4/4 time echoes your anticipation when counting down the hours until you see your crush again. It's not erratic, but it's certainly not to be ignored. Experiencing this beat is like walking with a spring in your step: you aren’t strolling, and you’re not skipping, but you are walking with your head high, the feeling of confidence and elation exploding throughout your body right through to your fingertips. You may try hard to withhold your excitement by pursing your lips together tightly, however you can’t withhold your goofy lovesick grin from the general public.


The electric guitar, which plucks the same riff varying only in key throughout, expresses the strong hope an individual holds onto in the uncertain stage of any new relationship. It is like trying to keep your head on straight while your heart threatens to leap out of its chest overzealously; like sitting by the phone, biting your lip and twiddling your thumbs, eyes staring off into space as your imagination wanders to the far corners of your psyche, struggling to balance damaging fictional scenarios with an uneventful reality. In doing so, the electric guitar perfectly captures the uncertainty and eagerness of such one-sided infatuation.

Dreamscapes and romanticised scenes akin to the rare feeling imagined when you think you’ve met 'the one' are so cleverly depicted through metaphor in the band’s 1986 hit. ‘The mystic moon is playing havoc with the tide’ resembles the power imbalance felt when in lust with the idea of someone you barely know. ‘I split like light refracted… across a moonlit mile’ depicts the absence of level-headedness felt by any man, woman or child who has ever fallen head over heels for someone deemed emotionally distant.

What is so beautiful about this song is that while the music and general tone suggest a strong, overwhelming feeling upon first meeting, the hyperbolic lyrics admit human flaw: that in the moment when our emotions take heed, we view the world around us through rose-coloured lenses.

‘Don’t get me wrong /
If I fall in the mode of passion’

Most people want to believe in ‘the one’, so when a rare connection is felt, many allow themselves to believe that the universe has led them to meet. We as mere mortals begin to piece together a puzzle in the form of signs that don't exist in order to suit a reality we hope to achieve; this is captured majestically in each verse.

‘I see neon lights whenever you walk by...
I’m thinking about the fireworks that go off when you smile’

While to the nearby voyeur there is nothing of substance to note, Hynde captures in her lyrics the plentiful range of emotions felt when blinded by the idea of love. The person you fall for, it seems, is inconsequential when expressed in such a way. In this way, love as expressed in this song is not felt for one person in particular, but rather becomes an expression of your willingness as a listener to be open to love one day. And that is love in one of its most innocent forms.

Regardless of what is happening in the listener’s life at the time, these songs, and songs with similar strengths, allow listeners to escape reality, for better or worse. Lyrically, Bowie, Hynde and Gates effectively utilise a number of language techniques to allow for subjective (and seemingly endless) interpretation. Not only do their lyrics appear aesthetically appealing in print, they're also effective in appealing to a broad audience.

Universal themes of love and well, the universe in all its grandeur is a commonality between these three songs, comparing emotion and the value of love to the wonders of the world itself; while the sophisticated and well-produced layering of melodic instruments emotively entrances you as the listener, drawing you into a mode of fantasy within twenty seconds of play.

As human beings whose natural instinct it is to pair up (solitary confinement is a form of punishment after all), songs like ‘As The World Falls Down’, ‘Universe’ and ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ allow those of us navigating the single life to partake in the exceptional experience of love in a safe, satisfying and inspiring way.

So for those of you with an untouched heart, notice the tingling under your skin, that smile that creeps across your face without permission, the flurry in your heart as you drift into a romantic daze, and the fireworks that dazzle your vision. As you listen to these songs you'll no longer sense exclusion to the feeling, because that overpowering sensation, my friends, is what love is.

Written by Belinda Pearce

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