Saturday, January 06, 2007

Song Analysis: Charlotte Church - "Moodswings"

I don't know how much interest there is in stuff like this from my readers, but I love doing analyses of songs. It's one of my favorite parts of running a blog. So, I figured why not make a semi-regular feature out of this. It's my one man combat to try to prove that pop music can and does have some depth to it. I'm going to start with my #21 favorite single of 2006, "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That)" by Charlotte Church. Just to say right off the bat, I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about music theory, so this is inherently a non-academic discussion. But if you have anything of an academic nature to say about the song, feel free to chime in.

This is a teenpop song because Charlotte was a teen when it was released, even if it sounds nothing like what we would normally thing of as teenpop. Maye one of my Brit readers out there can clue me in to how this was marketed (i.e. which demographic it was primarily marketed towards).

Youtube: "Moodswings" (You should really listen to the song before reading the analysis).

Now first of all I
Wanna let you know that
I've been known for some
Minor moodswings, now and then.
It all started back when
People were doing me wrong and
Because of my position
I would hold my tongue for them.
Bad relationships, and people I thought were friends and
People judging me, before they get to know a thing.
When you decided to step to me
It shows me so clearly
You just wanna see, see the other side of me.

Chorus: And you dont know what I'm going through and
You might think it's all about you.
But its everything, I've been holding back.
It's just bad timing
To come at me like that.

I try to keep my cool, thus,
That's what I try to do but
It's so hard dealing with
People just like you.
I try to walk away from
Situations that run
Into complications
That make me lose control.
If I give in to you then
It's what you want me to do
And if I lose my cool
Then I'm only pleasing you.
You know just how to push me.
My temperature is rising.
Blood pressure is building.
I'm about to lose control.


I'm sorry did I,
Did I cross the line?
I Tried to warn you away
Way ahead of time.
I'm so frustrated that I
Feel like I could cry.
This could be the time
But I'm not going out like that.

Chorus x 2
To come at me like that x3

Song Analysis: The lyrics describe a fairly simple story, where somebody who has been hurt by past relationships is not quite ready for a new relationship. And so while she rather likes this new guy she's met, she just cannot be with him, and is telling him that. This is a woman who is not completely devestated by their last relationship, it's somebody who is in that phase where they appear to be happy on the surface but can be touched off by any of the slightest old thing (the same phase of a breakup captured in "Behind These Hazel Eyes"). This is a guy who has caught her in one of her "good times" and thinks that she's always fun and light and happy. She's warning him that she's not always like that, and it's not worth getting into a relationship with her at this point. It's "It's not you, it's me" in song form. Except that I take the lyrics on the surface and presume she's being on the up-and-up rather than giving some kind of lame breakup excuse. And I really love some of the lyrics to this song, especially the beginning sentence "Now first of all I/Wanna let you know that/I've been known for some/Minor moodswings, now and then." Starting off in a very understated way, saying "minor moodswings" and opening the song seemingly in the middle of a conversation and relationship. So it's all a bit disorienting to start out, such as who is she talking to and why is she having moodswings, etc. OK, a simple story stated in sometimes great ways, but mostly with fairly straightforward lyrics. Most of all I admire the minimalism of the lyrics. No more is said than needs to be said. It seemingly picks up in the middle of a conversation, and precisely why this is "bad timing" is never referenced or stated. But it doesn't need to be! The song works perfectly well without trying to shoehorn in some kind of meaningless backstory.

What make this song truly great, is the way the structure and the sound of the song reinforce and enhance the meaning of the song. I love crap like that in music (see also, say, "Everywhere" or "Since U Been Gone" or "Friends in Low Places"). Notice how random the line breaks are in the lyrics above (I got these off of a lyrics website which are sometimes unreliable but those line breaks are accurate). They break totally randomly, not just in the middle of sentences but in the middle of thoughts and phrases and clauses. The verses are all sung at a very understated and rambling talking-style cadence, though she is singing. So even though she's completely singing, it has a really conversational feel to it. The last note of each line is dragged out which enhances the line breaks, making the sound of it all even odder. The lines in the verses are far from uniform in length, and there's even variations in the melodies. So there's no real set "melody" in the lyrics as each of the lines has a slightly different melody and cadence to the previous lines, due to the differences in length and rhythm in the lyrics. All of this is backed by an extremely out of place sounding plucky and cheerful piano line in the background. Strings and guitar riffs appear in the background at seemingly random points. It's all rather odd and disorienting. But, what makes it great is that it all serves to reinforce the confusion that she is feeling about the whole situation. She likes the guy and wants to go out with him, but knows with her brain that it's a bad idea due to the timing of the situation. Very confusing time, aptly captured by the melody.

This leads into the chorus which features an immediate and abrupt shift in the musical characteristics of the song. The plucky piano line and staccato instrumentation is replaced with no transition by a fuzzed out guitar line, and prominent percussion and bass line. While the verses are sung in a very wary, talking style voice, the chorus instantly starts with a more self-assured tone, with layered harmonies. Even the "What I'm going through" line, which features no harmonies as far as I can tell, is sung in a different voice than the verses. So while the verses project an air of confusion and uncertainty, the chorus projects an air of confidence in her decision. She's decided to blow this guy off and that's final. This isn't even something you will necessarily get from the lyrics, which is one way how the musicality of the song enhances the lyrical content. But there's no transitionary prechorus in this song, it instantly flips the switch from verse to chorus, which I love in this song. From a musical standpoint, I also love how the strings in the chorus enhance the drama and build-up in the music (surely there's some musical term for this), which all ultimately pays off with the "To come at me like that" line, which is the main hook of the song. Then it instantly and abruptly switches back into the verse.

Verse two. The second verse has basically the same lyrical backdrop and melody as the first verse (keeping in mind that there really isn't any consistency in the melody here. The second verse reads as her justifying her decision to herself. She tries to avoid situations where she might meet people that she likes. Which makes her "lose control" of her actions and "lose control" because she is letting her (constantly chaning and inherently unreliable at this time) emotions get in the way of what she KNOWS is the right decision. The verse ends, instantly, with several short lines. Whereas the rest of this verse and the entire first version contain lines that are small fragments of sentences broken up over several lines, each of the last four lines of the verse are complete, self-contained sentences. A drama addled string line is layed under these lines, which gains in slight intensity as the lines do: "My temperature is rising" and "Blood control is building" underscored, appropriately, with credscendo-ing music. The the last line in the verse is "I'm about to lose control". But before she totally loses control, it goes back into the self-assured chorus, rejecting him.

The bridge is between the chorus and verse in sound. The vocals are similar to the vocals on the verse, but the musical backdrop is nothing like it. Gone are the plucky piano and staccato instruments. It's backed by a "sad" sounding string and guitar sound which give off a feel of anguish. Maybe she's confident in her decision but that doesn't mean it makes her happy. The wildcard here is the line "I'm not going out like that." I just interpret that line as a brief moment of self-doubt, rather than negating the entire lyrical content of the song previous.

OK, but then why is the song called "Moodswings", when the word only appears once in the song and even then it's in the middle of a random line in a verse. The single release is officially titled "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That)", presumably because "To come at me like that" is the central line and main hook to the song and the executives wanted people to know what song it was by the title. Anyways, "Moodswings" certainly seems like an absolutely perfect title for the song, given not just the lyrical content, but the way the "mood" of the song seems to shift rapidly and abruptly between the verses, chorus, and bridge. Think about it, if you've got a song named "Moodswings" it'd be silly to make the song have a similar musical backdrop and singing style throughout.

The music to this song, in the way it changes so frequently, gives the impression of somebody who is deeply confused and rapidly changing her mind, exactly like the lyrics imply. When the music and the lyrics match so perfectly, it really enhances my enjoyment of the song. So what's the final story and impression we get from the song, speaking generally? So, some fellow has broken up with Charlotte or hurt her feelings, or whatever. Some time after this, she meets a new guy, she's happy and the guy likes her. (This all happens before the song even begins). But then she's starting to feel confused. She doesn't know what to think or do, because this guy makes her happy but she knows she can't stay with him. She's not ready for a relationship yet, and he's not gonna like "the other side of [her]". Amidst all this confusion, she finally decides to break up with this guy. She feels good about the decision, justifies it to herself. But then starts to feel some self doubt. It makes her sad to lose this guy, but she knows what she has to do. Song over.

Final rating: This is one of the great singles of 2006, and the best song on Charlotte Church's first pop album ("Crazy Chick" also a great song). Possibly underrated in my year end singles list, but whatever. 9/10.



Anonymous Malik Williams said...

Hey.. I just came across this post of yours from 2007.
I'm one of the co-writers for Moodswings (To COme At Me Like That).
Thanks for writing a great article.
You can see more about me here:
Feel free to keep me up to date with all your future posts... k

Also, give me some feedback on this song and video.

How can I help promote your blog? Let me know!!

Malik Williams

12:25 PM  

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