Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Composition of a Pop Star

Someone once said that there is 'nothing new under the sun' as it is recorded in Ecclesiastes I (1-14). Whoever it was, they were dead right. These days, whenever I listen to anything new, I am always reminded of something else be it singer, band, general song writing style, sound etc etc. After fifty-odd years of popular music this is bound to happen. So let’s have some fun with it.

I have taken three new-ish artists that I like to listen to and tried to break them down into their constituent parts – a bit like those chemical tests you used to do in practical Chemistry at school (although how anyone was supposed to keep that mystery compound on a bit of charcoal block when using a blowpipe through the Bunsen flame I’ll never know – mine usually ended up over the person next to me).

So without further ado, here are the results of my analysis. First up is Natasha Khan and her consortium, Bat For Lashes. As you can see, the main constituents are Kate Bush, Björk and Tori Amos with a bit of Supertramp rhythm thrown in around an Annie Lennox ambience. All very pastoral and ambient, perhaps traces of a bit of Pink Floyd and Chemical Brothers are missing here?

My second artist is Little Boots, whose debut ‘Hands’ is beginning to get under my skin after a bit of initial indifference. She is revealed as a sort of Kylie/Billie hybrid mixed with a strong 1980s electro-pop influence represented by Depeche Mode, OMD and the Human League. (I cheated a bit on the last band as Phil Oakey sings on one track).

My final analysis is the Ting Tings who are a strange mixture of punk/new wave and 1970s disco with the strangled vocal style incorporating the rap of Neneh Cherry and the paranoia of Poly Styrene and David Byrne (‘that’s not my name’!!). Their drums/guitar configuration ought to suggest the influence of the White Stripes but somehow it doesn’t really reveal itself in sufficient quantities to be significant. Perhaps a bit of Phil Collins drumming should’ve showed up?

I knew Chemistry lessons would be useful one day! Anyone else got any results they’d like to share?


Adrian said...

Martin, you have discovered the formulas used in the record label labs!!


It's alliiiive!!

musicobsessive said...

I know. That break-in at a well known label was worth its weight in gold...and I've still got a bit of Elton John left over! :)

Alan said...

Surely, you should be continuing the analysis to derive the constituent parts of the compounds you have found - Human League or Kate Bush must be composed of something. Ultimately, you will get down to the basic elementals of Earth, Wind and Fire.

Quite how such a disco oriented, soul band could be the source of all rock music is still one of the great questions of science.

musicobsessive said...

Alan - Unfortunately, in order to crack that mystery, I'd need an accelerator the size of Switzerland...oh, there is one?

A bit beyond my budget which still only extends to Bunsen Burners and blowpipes. Theoretically, even E W & F could be broken down to the real elemental particle, 'Quark Strangeness and Charm', a late period Hawkwind album. Now there's an interesting hypothesis!

Jayne said...

This is very clever! How would you tackle the earlier stars - Elvis, for example? I guess most musicians would boil down to (glue) no... (ewww!) - things like church choirs, folk, and possibly wandering minstrels (actually were they a band?).

musicobsessive said...

Jayne. Funny you should bring that up. This blog is also fed to my Facebook page and over there a discussion has been raging on that very subject. The consensus seems to be that the reason why this only really works for current artists is the amount of history to draw from. Pioneers are just that - which is why much of the music from the 50s and 60s sounds so fresh i.e. it is not derivative. Having said that there is a good case for breaking Elvis into American country and black mississippi delta blues...and perhaps a bit of glue.

bearockr said...

A Really Unique Post... Loved The Way You Have Made The Pie-charts And The Comparisons ! I Found Your Blog Really Interesting To Read !! Keep Rocking, Sir!

musicobsessive said...

Hi bearockr - thanks for the comment! I shall be continuing this blog for as long as I have opinions to air - hopefully for some time yet so keep watching this space.