This is an analysis by request for my Twitter friend @niickcauilan. And I was happy to have a good look at this song, as it is one of my favorites and if I really channel into the feelings contained within, I can’t listen without tearing up. The sorrow, anger, confusion, and yearning all mixed in to form a really poignant picture. As usual, there is a songwriting mastery going on here, and because there aren’t many charts/how-to’s available, I’ll cover basics of the chords and how melodies and words work together.
(Video analysis is at the bottom of the page)
The verse is notable for its lack of chord changes, it stays on E and goes to A once, only to come back.
But it’s not a regular E chord — it’s an E without the third (G#) and has the 9th (F#) creeping in here and there. This creates a very open sound that is not as overtly “happy” as a regular E chord. E to A is a 4th relationship, which also has an open quality. Coupled with steady and unhurried beats, the resulting music evokes a big, blue sky.
The verse melody is primarily a downward shape, without big shapes. Not a tuneful melody but that forces the audience to pay attention to the words, which are fitted against melody in a natural way — no odd jumps or emphasis.
The C#m B A progression sets up the fragile, sad feeling, creating a nice contrast from the verse. Still squarely in they key of E major though, so the song retains the familiarity and smoothness — no jarring surprises in sight yet.
The melodies alternate between an arch shape and upward motion. The 1st and 3rd phrases go up and then end with a big jump down, creating a sense of let down. The 2nd one ends on an upward motion, setting up the 3rd one and the 4th one settles down on the tonic (E), but is followed by the concluding phrase that undoes the weak finality of the last phrase by going down and ending on the 5th (B) of the key. To have built a lot of energy with these upward motions, only to have a series of big jump-downs and end on an open-sounding note, creates the sense of yearning and unresolved-ness. It’s not a coincidence, of course, that the last line, repeated, is a question. That final phrase is a musical equivalent of a question — and is left unresolved.
The first half goes like this:
E D A
E A/E D A
It starts out innocently enough, but then the introduction of the D, a flat seventh in the key of E major, reveals that something isn’t quite as smooth as it used to be. The flat seventh is what I call a defiant chord, and while it doesn’t really draw attention because it’s introduced subtly, it still foreshadows the drama that is to come. A with E in the bottom is an easy one to miss here, but it achieves the purpose of setting up the D again, this time with more force, as A to D is a 5th relationship. This makes the arrival of D more pronounced, but because E is still in the bass it also sustains the sound of the preceding E, again to really set up the arrival of the D.
The next section:
G F# E (x3)
This is the most anguished part of the song, and notice how the dramatic phrase “Couldn’t save” is repeated over and over here. G and F# are not chords found in the key of E major and that’s what creates tension — used in riffs they make great rock riffs, but saved here for the bridge in an otherwise by-the-book E major song, it sticks out like a sore thumb for a great effect.
Notice how the final chorus ends with a variation that spirals down and then comes up, but not as high as it used to be. The down then up figures as the song fades really reinforces the unsettled feeling. The melody is never really allow to resolve or conclude, because the song ends with a question, and we are all left waiting for an answer, which is not provided in this song.
Toad’s songs have always been about subtlety — even their biggest hits don’t grab your attention with forceful guitar riffs or catchy melodies (at least not right away). It’s because of this subtlety, though, that these songs have the sink-under-your-skin quality, where it just grows on your and seeps deep into your heart after a few spins.
What makes that happen is the careful marriage of words and music. With words, Toad restrains itself from being too literal, instead framing a story by bits and pieces of astute descriptions but leaving spaces in-between to allow room for interpretation. And those words are matched by music that really ebbs and flows with the words. I highly doubt that they look at their music from more mechanical/theoretical point of view like I did here — but that probably means that they as a collective have a well-developed sensibility that polishes these songs until they become the gems that they are. I’m sure there are some back-and-forth with the songs and arrangement, but they know when they are “there” with the songs, and they don’t seem to release much that don’t meet their standards. The result is perhaps one of the most consistent catalog, where you can really sit and listen to their albums from the beginning to the end and appreciate something in each track.
It’s something to aspire to for us musicians and songwriters.