Recently there’s been a lot of talk about Steven Wilson’s new album and it has finally come out. This album is, without a doubt, different than anything he has done before- resulting in a lot of controversy- possibly Wilson’s marketing strategy? For some, the record includes such pop moments that it defies the very definition of progressive rock. But isn’t combining rock with other styles and creating fresh sounds the very essence of the musical genre?
The album speaks of politics, war, obession and joy. It’s a dance between Wilson’s most sinister and happiest sides, creating an album that will leave us something to talk about for a long time.
How does he do it? How does Steven Wilson compose his music? I will try to give you a taste of what makes up one of his new songs. Before the album came out, a lyric video was made available on the artist’s official Youtube page. It personifies a refugee, and includes synthesizers, intimate lyrics, and guitar, synth and harmonica solos, yes that’s right- a harmonica solo.
Let’s analyze the chord progressions that make up the song “Refuge”:
Here in the wreckage
The winter is hard
I sleep in the same clothes
That I dragged through the mud
The first verse throws us into the story of the refugee; things are going badly, he’s cold and has very little. Wilson barely gives any movement to the verses, possibly in an attempt to express the infinite wait of the refugee’s long and uncertain situation. The first verse uses only a piano/synth combination until we arrive at the first chorus.
The chords used in the verses are [Csus9 | Csus9 | Csus9 | Cmaj(9) |.
This same feel gives us a taste of the chorus that makes the song.
And if you ask me
There’s nowhere else I can go
So I stay
The chords that form the chorus are Em7, Bm, Em7, Gmaj7.
Again, these chords are very stable. Even though in this progression there is more movement than the single chord verses, it still has very little and sets the tone of the song (G major) staying in the tonic chords (I, IIIm y VIm).
This formula repeats itself twice completely, but before going into the third verse there is a quick and simple bridge with synthesizers and some hi-hat (drums) that signal a change in the refugee’s vision.
There are two chords used in this bridge: Cmaj – Gmaj7; the classic IV – I.
For the third verse and chorus we have a bigger and more dramatic view of the refugee’s situation; there are synthesizers, a timid and opaque drum, and the chorus is sung in falsetto to introduce the second and most tragic part of the piece.
In order to unleash all the fury of a character stuck in such a terrible situation, the drums are finally more present and the chord progression becomes more interesting. Even though it is made up of only three chords, it lasts eight bars and is divided like this:
[ C5 | C5 | C5 | D5 | E5 | E5 | E5 | D5 ] it is repeated during the harmonica, electric guitar and synth solos finishing in a silence. The silence is only interrupted by what seems to be the sound of children playing and singing.
The outro is the combination of a bridge in which we hear the harmonica and the chorus one last time.
The last bridge is: Am, Bm, Am, Bm, Em, Cmaj, Em, C major and it is repeated once.
If you haven’t listened to the album yet, here it is:
Take a look at our recent article about the most used (and successful) chord progressions used by Pink Floyd here.