Steven Wilson’s new album: chord progressions analysis

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

Nothing’s changed

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.

Resultado de imagen para steven wilson

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.

The 13 most successful chord progressions found on Pink Floyd albums

pink floyd painting

To say that there has been a lot written about the legendary band Pink Floyd would be an understatement. Around 43 million web pages, in one way or another, mention the group. It’s general knowledge that the band’s albums are among the highest sold in history. Even today, 1 million Pink Floyd albums are sold on average every year. According to the Capitol Records web page, 8000 copies of the remarkable The Dark Side of the Moon are sold every week, only counting the USA.   

We could spend hours discussing what it is that makes a band whose latest work came to light in 2014, (20 years after its predecessor) and whose most popular discs were recorded and published between 40 and 50 years ago so popular to such a multitude of people. 

There are forums and libraries dedicated to David Gilmour’s solos, Waters’ lyrics, Nick Mason’s dynamics and Rick Wright’s jazz contribution on the keyboard. You can find a hoard of information about their sound and recording techniques, the pedals and amplifiers they used, the contribution of sound and mixing engineers, the meaning of the lyrics, the huge concert productions, and of course the myths and mysteries surrounding the break-ups and reunions of the group.

pink floyd photo shoot

The English band’s 3 most sold and listened to albums are the following:  

1. The Dark Side of the Moon

2. The Wall

3. Wish you were Here

We’re going to take a look at the 13 chord progressions used most by the band in these albums. Chord harmony is the musical base that sustains the other elements, it colours the melody and directs the listener. It doesn’t depend on timing or lyrics but it is definitely an integral part of the formula of which Pink Floyd is composed. 

1) I – V – IV [C – G – F]

This is one of the most used progressions in Western music; it produces a calm sensation with little stress. You can hear it in 6 songs including “Mother”, “Wish you were Here” and “Hey you”.

2) I – V – I [C – G – C]

This progression is generally used to obtain a brief moment of instability or some quick tension in anticipation of an upcoming passage. It is a very common progression and can also be found in 6 songs like: “Comfortably Numb”, “Outside the Wall” and “Goodbye Blue Sky”. –Interesting fact: This progression is only used in the album The Wall

3) I – IV – I – IV [C – F – C – F]

This is a formula that can be heard in all genres of music. It is especially used in lyrical genres that focus on the importance of the words, because it helps the melody move in a reliable, comfortable and anticipated way. You’ll hear it in “In the Flesh” (both songs), “Waiting for the Worms” and “The Show must go on”.

david gilmour live pink floyd

4) I  –  vi [C – Am]

This is a progression of only 2 chords that is usually used in verses that don’t add tension to the melody. It’s a well-known progression because it goes from a relative major to a relative minor, playing with the perception of the listener. This progression is used in 4 songs including “Young Lust” and “Have a Cigar”.

5) V/V – V [D(7) – G]

This is a dominant chord used to resolve to the dominant chord of the key (or the Dominant of the dominant) and a great resource that has been commonly used through history. You can hear it in 4 songs: “Brain Damage”, “The Thin Ice”, “Nobody Home” and “One of my turns”. 

 6) V – I – IV [G – C – F]

This chain of chords instantly throws the listeners out, brings them back in for a quick second and once again displaces them, though this time, it isn’t as tense. There is no question as to why these British musicians wanted to use this in some of their songs. This progression is in 4 songs including “The great gig in the Sky” and “Vera”.   

7) IV – V – vi [F – G – Am]

These ascending chords with a dominant that doesn’t resolve give you the sensation of returning to Earth. This progression is in 4 songs including “Wish you Were Here” and “Bring the boys back home”.

pink floyd design the wall

8) IV – I – IV – I [F – C – F – C]

This one is similar to number 3 but the order of the chords is alternated. It gives you the sensation of subtle movement and Pink Floyd does an amazing job taking advantage of this. You can hear it in 3 songs: “Mother”, “Nobody Home” and “The Show must go on”.

9) vi – ii – V [Am – Dm – G]

This is an alternative route to the classic I-IV-V that takes you through similar landscapes but with a touch of melancholy rendered by the minor tones. The band uses this progression in 3 songs: “Vera”, “Don’t leave me now” and “Brain Damage”. 

10) vi –  IV  – V [Am – F – G]

This is another alternative route to the classic I-IV-V like in the last progression, but this time it’s used only to give a minor feel at the very beginning. 3 of their songs take this route: “Have a Cigar”, “The Thin Ice” y “Vera”. 

11) vi – I – V [Am – C – G]

This progression works well in terms of major or minor harmony because it includes the I-V cadence. You can find it in “Time” and “Nobody Home”.

pink floyd live 70s

12) bVII – i [Bb – Cm]

You can hear two examples of this modal shift in these Pink Floyd discs. The first one is in “Time” and the second one is in “Shine on you Crazy Diamond” (Part 3). 

13) bVII – IV  – bVII  – IV [Bb – F – Bb – F]

This is another progression that uses external resources apart from the base scale and it is also found in 2 pasages: “Mother” and “Comfortably Numb”. 

pink floyd painting

Pink Floyd was definitely not a band that constantly reproduced the same formulas. Their fame and legacy is in large part due to their passion for experimenting. This is clear in their 3 most listened to albums, in which progressions are so rarely repeated that in the 51 songs, the most repeated progression can only be counted 6 times.

By the way, you should also check out this progressive rock albums released just last month (July 2017).