did anyone hear the tree that fell?

I was musing aloud recently about a hypothetical mix of perfect pop songs from the ’90s…and my first two nominees were “There She Goes” by The La’s (which, someone pointed out, had actually debuted in 1988…but the album mix came out in ’90) and “Ton of Feathers, Ton of Steel” by Statuesque.

The latter actually received a certain amount of attention – it was on the CD included with the old CMJ Monthly magazine, for example – and in fact was the first track on Statuesque’s first EP Angleterre. Sadly, the band never really drew any more attention than it got then…but damn, this is a fabulous song. Stephen Manning, Statuesque’s songwriter and sole constant, is somewhat unusual for rock writers in that he’ll often use longer, more fully developed structures than typical: here, for example, the full run of verse and chorus sections lasts a minute and a half…which is to say, if there were three full sets of them, plus a bridge of roughly similar length, and perhaps an intro and coda, the song would be six or seven minutes long: Manning’s smart enough to hold the song to two full verses, with some effective structural truncation. He also builds the song’s intensity along the way, so there’s an unusual amount of tension built up, since we keep expecting the song to hit its climactic chorus but instead get another verse section.

The song’s chords and voicing contribute as well: after the intro, it oscillates between two varieties of D chord for most the verse, moving to a sequence descending from G to Em, and then to A as the turnaround back to D. In the second section of the verse, the relatively static chord movement of the first section is replaced by changes every bar, but Manning adds a note of doubt by modulating to chords outside the home key (C major, E major, B-flat major). The next section (“I’m not myself when I’m near you…”) is a bit of a trick: it’s understandable if you think we’ve actually arrived at the song’s chorus, with its repeated lines and harmony vocals…but if it were the real chorus, it’d be somewhat ambivalent: Manning voices the bass off-root on most chords, which continues the somewhat unsettled feel of the prior section…and finally, we’re at the chorus proper, with Manning’s voice rising to its highest register, and a variation on the prior section’s chord sequence this time with its bass firmly holding down each chord’s root. At the end of the chorus, when Manning stops his guitar strings and hits the A-G sequence hard, we realize that texturally the song’s been almost non-stop guitar-strumming and arpeggios to that point…so that silence, and sudden burst of rhythmic energy, bring the chorus home.

The second verse is similar to the first, except the lead guitar is slightly more aggressive in its arpeggiations in the first section, and has a sharper bite in the second and third sections. After a second chorus, there’s a guitar solo over chords derived from the chorus, but mostly minor chords rather than major chords. A hushed version of the second verse part, the third section/prechorus, and a second repeat of the chorus, with the vocal part from the prechorus as countermelody – and then, quickly, two sets of chords (a single hit, and one with sixteenth-note pickups) end the song – with Manning’s last trick, preserving a bit of the prevailing unsettlement by keeping the bass on A over the final D chords.

Statuesque “Ton of Feathers, Ton of Steel” (Angleterre, 1996)

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