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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Modal mixture-one more reason Kurt Cobain is a genius

If you've never listened to Nirvana, now would be the time. Kurt Cobain's songwriting abilities are out of this world. Not only are all of the band's songs killer, but great for analyzing. Such examples are "Lithium," "In Bloom," and "About a Girl." All three of these songs have examples of some intense rock modal mixture. But I'm going to talk about "Lithium" from the Nevermind album.
In this song, we hear consecutive progressions of thirds that move the music in and out of major and minor modes. This can be heard clearly in the guitar introduction and throughout the song underneath the vocal line of the verses and choruses. bVI and bVII chords make their appearance fittingly in these progressions and add to the song's overall impact. The somewhat instability of the constant fluctuation between major and minor paints the music onto the lyric canvas. Kurt sings:
"I'm so happy 'cause today I've found my friends...They're in my head.
I'm so ugly, but that's okay, 'cause so are you...We've broken our mirrors.
Sunday morning is everyday for all I care...And I'm not scared
Light my candles in a daze...'Cause I've found god."

These lyrics are haunting and the mixture helps add to the overall unsteady, anguished feel of the song. Kurt does an amazing job singing the lyrics, providing the final touch of angst that reaches out to the listener. He also sings
"I like you-I'm not gonna crack. I miss you-I'm not gonna crack. I love you-I'm not gonna crack."
For me, the moving in and out of the major and minor modes along with the mixture helps to create a mood of growing anxiety, like that of a person tempter to break a mirror or shatter a relationship with someone or something. It's a brilliant song and one of my personal Nirvana favorites. It's one of those songs you can turn up in your car when you've had a bad day and after putting all of your negative energy into it, you feel surprisingly better.

Well, I hope you all have enjoyed my blog on Nirvana. If you don't own one or all of their albums, I strongly encourage a visit to your local CD store or iTunes.

For more on mixture in rock music, check out this nifty little article that helped me out with this blog. "Exploring modal subversions in alternative music" by Chris McDonald from Popular Music Volume 19/3 Cambridge University Press, 2000.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Go into more details of how Cobain's performance adds angst. Good choice, and good thoughts about mixture as portraying anxiety.