Focus on: Kenneth Smith

Senior Lecturer Dr Kenneth Smith

Senior Lecturer Dr Kenneth Smith

Kenneth's research into early 20th Century art-music informs his desire to look for new ways of analysing popular music from technical details of construction in dialogue with philosophical, psychological approaches. He is editing a special issue of the journal Music Analysis for 2016, including an essay that expands his hearing of chromatic chord progressions from art-music into Indie band Suede. He is co-editing a book, Expanding Approaches for Popular Music Analysis, in which he works with a philosopher to provide a model of how repetition and desire is experienced in popular music. Kenneth recently featured in The Guardian as one of five experts giving their insight into possible reasons behind Adele's hugely successful ballads. He said:

“If we are to consider her single Hello, each step in the sequence of the song lets us feel the disappointment and despondence in Adele’s emotions. She makes an obvious nod to Lionel Richie, opening with a rising interval of a second (from B flat to C) as she sings “hello”.

That interval stretches out into the melody of the song’s chorus, too, rising upwards into “from the other side” – not going into the depressing descent (to B flat) of “it’s me” as during the verse. But while Richie’s is a fantasy of a returning lover, Adele’s hello is a wild call into an abyss. At points she references the Mamas & Papas’ California Dreamin’, too.

Both songs (and Richie’s, too, in fact) have slow, minor chords that repeat in cycles and create an atmosphere of lament. In the song’s verses, harmony and melody are subdued, and Adele’s only real chance to break through are her characteristic slides between pitches.

The chord progression and its melody repeat almost endlessly as she replays events in her mind – which we see in the video – like the Freudian compulsion to repeat traumatic experiences in the hope of finding an escape from them.

The chorus’s repeated chord progression is Fminor –A flat–E flat–D flat: a “static” sequence, that makes it seem as though time is standing still. The only escape comes when she jumps an octave in the chorus, into the straining register of her voice, and really calls out: “Hello from the other side.”