Track: Lemon to a Knife Fight
Artist: The Wombats
Genre: alternative, indie, rock
Music Rating: 9/10
Lyrics Rating: 9/10
Sounds Like: Arctic Monkeys, Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend
Interesting Fact: This track was written about a not-so-lovely drive down Mulholland, during which Matthew Murphy decided to engage in an argument with his wife. He did not win.
Best thing about this track: The brilliant musical creativity that continually drives itself forward with self-propelled momentum.
One thing I wish was different: Why are they driving if he’s intoxicated and high? (I jest. Perchance he’s in the passenger seat?) Um, but seriously, I really love this song a lot, and I wouldn’t change a whole lot about it. I could’ve done with some more of that sick brass though!
Website: The Wombats
Warning: It’s been a minute since I’ve done a serious technical analysis of anything. Music theory ahead! I’ll keep it pretty basic, but proceed at your own risk.
The Wombats are gearing up to release their 2018 album, Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life, and we’ve been sitting one of the first singles for a little while now. Time to deconstruct and explain why I love it so spectacularly!
Obviously, we’ve come to expect plenty of creativity and quirk from The Wombats, but this track honestly exceeds my most stringent expectations.
First of all, any song that bursts onto the scene with a solitary, janky guitar playing the supertonic demands my attention and owns my respect. But everything that follows thereafter only continues to elevate the music and earn my undying fealty. The percussive kick and the punch of the electric guitar coming in already had me flailing less than five seconds into the song. But before we get to the ingenious instrumentation, let’s circle back to the song structure.
I will say it until I’m blue in the face: the supertonic (ii) is criminally underutilised in modern music.
Aside from the leading tone (vii), it is the degree that builds the most dramatic tension in western music. It stands on harmonic instability and creates an innate sense of discomfort when sustained. Unlike the leading tone (vii), however, it doesn’t resolve naturally to the tonic (I). The supertonic (ii) leans into the dominant (V).
So obviously, The Wombats lead out with an unapologetic supertonic (ii), and then follow it up with the subdominant (IV). They did that. Talk about a power move!
Okay, so the subdominant (IV) is a pretty stable chord in western music, because it also leans into the tonic (I) really well. It’s a stable transitory chord.
Next in the progression, we get the dominant (V) and tonic (I) respectively (which is the most expected chordal interval) — but wait! What’s this? The tonic (I) comes first, proceeding to end the line on the dominant (V).
It has harmonic stability, but it still wants to end on the tonic (I). So, we circle back around to the beginning of the progression to…the supertonic (ii)! That’s just…evil genius.
Evil genius is what that is. You’re caught in a perpetual loop of controlled chaos and loosely stabilized harmonics. It never allows itself to completely resolve, because the tonic (I) lands in the middle and laughs at the crazed bookends, never allowing respite. But wait. There’s more!
Remember how I said we’d get back to the ingenious instrumentation? Let’s talk about the cheeky wooden flute from the chorus, shall we?
For those keeping score at home, the progression has utilized I ii IV and V. (Yes, you’ll see an obvious omission of the iii, but more notable to chordal theory is the blatant absence of the vi. Also worth noting is the fact that many of those chords are specifically 7-chords.)
That flute has the audacity… Do you hear that? On the second measure of every beat? What’s this? Yes, my dear friends. That would be the sixth of the key hit by a solitary wooden flute on every second beat of the chorus. *head explodes*
It’s like they’re just mocking us with how creatively, bizarrely, and intelligently they’re building up the tension here. At this point it’s not theory; it’s just comedy. That flute is trolling us hard.
This post is getting too long already, and I’ve yet to address the way they play with rhythm, meld the disparate guitars together, walk the bassline, or splash the occasional brass flairs. Suffice it to say that I am immensely pleased, amused, and overwhelmed by the technical musical creativity of this piece.
Let’s get lyrical really quickly. I’ve made thinly veiled references throughout to how the music specifically parallels the lyrical journey of the story, but I’d just like to specifically point out how wonderfully layered the words are all on their own.
I won’t wound your intelligence by explaining the humor of the specific selection of bringing a “lemon” to a knife fight. I’ll just note that the layered jokes therein delight me to no end.
Aside from the obvious humor and flamboyancies of mixed metaphors, each stanza continuously brings dry humor and zesty punches from twisted expectations and cheeky wordplays.
I’ve been known to express my love of “dark twinkles” in music, but I think The Wombats have just converted me to a wholehearted love of zesty darkness.