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Thursday, February 10, 2005
David Byrne's "Glass Concrete and Stone" is an interesting song.[1] It's a good song, but it also has a very simple chord structure, even traditional, especially the chorus, which goes for (I think) the ol' V-IV-I. And the verse is, I think, just vi-I. You could say that it would sound just as gorgeous played on an acoustic guitar, but I'm not sure if that's true. It relies pretty heavily on that xylophone bit that's doubled on a, natch, acoustic guitar, and taken down to just chords it would sound different. But I'm not even sure it's the arrangement that turns this pretty simple song into something really gorgeous. (It's the lyrics, too, which are fantastic, but let's gloss over those for a sec.)

What I think it is[2] is actually Byrne's voice, a fact I'm usually loathe to admit. But compare this with a Talking Heads song with a similar vibe like "Heaven." Great song, but Byrne's delivery is much more rock-singer, separated and discrete phrases that are perhaps intentionally disconnected. That was what he was good at. But here, the song is actually kind of soothing. It's not "this is not my beautiful house!" kind of accusatory and great revelation-y, but a slow burn, an acceptance. It's not "I'm throwing this in your face!" but "You know this is true, right?" I like this.

And what sells it is totally the voice and the way it carries the melody. He breathes straight through these, connecting almost everything, cutting out only for discrete chunks of instrumental sections, harmonizing really beautifully with himself. And the tone is understated and easy, smooth, more cello than chicken-scratch guitar. Even when he switches to those tropicalia cadences right before the chorus and cuts them off, they stop at a note that leads logically into the next one, even if he cuts them off.

Of course, there are other nice little touches here--the shaker in the verse is particularly nice, and the detuned string/melodica break, to say nothing of the overall awesomeness of the xylophone. But mainly here, it's the voice, supporting the melody and the lyrics. An odd little thing, in context, but quite lovely.

[1] "...if you're a music nerd like me." Yeah, I know.
[2] Besides the lovely way Byrne avoids returning to the tonic too soon in the verse when the chord shifts, hanging on to that slightly upraised note.