What can I say, really? I like to do musical analysis in my head sometimes and I've done quite a lot for some of the canon songs. When I went to Austria this summer the only thing I had to keep in touch with things pony (since there was no internet access) was a CD of all the songs from the show. I listened to it a couple of times and really got thinking about how good and/or bad they were as pieces of music as the music was playing. I planned to write proper reviews of them when I got back home, but I've only got round to doing it now. I won't be issuing a score or anything, just an overall impression.
You can find my thoughts on some of the songs below. Obviously.
* * * * *
The Art of the Dress www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2s1I_…
This is the longest song from the show so far, when both halves are put together. The instrumentation is appropriately sparse, since it gives plenty of room for the vocals to take dominance. I think the instrument that plays the opening riff before the vocal is a mandolin or possibly a 12 string guitar, but it's a lovely, delicate sound all the same; plus the back beat provided by the tambourine for the intro is also very effective as it helps propel the rhythm quite effectively. The simple power chords from the electric guitar at the opening of the chorus (the line 'piece by piece') in homophony with the drums provides a really effective buildup to the end of the chorus, as the rest of the instruments steadily join.
The melody and harmony are rather simple in this song, since the phrases largely end on the tonic (except for the end of the chorus). However, the sections from lines such as 'cutting out the patterns snip by snip' have a nice usage of chord II moving to chord V and add a nice element of harmonic variation in there. I think the real strong point of this song is the lyrics, since they take on the narrative of the story effortlessly and rhyme in a most unexpected manner. As an enthusiast of Hip Hop, I can say that I really appreciate when a song incorporates internal rhyme and genuinely surprises me. A great example of this is in the second verse:
Yard by yard, fussing on the details.
Jewel neckline. Don't you know a stitch in time saves nine?
Make her something perfect to inspire
Even though she hates formal attire
Got to mind those intimate details,
Even though she's more concerned with sales.
It's Applejack's new dress.
All in all, this is a very effective song for propelling the plot of 'Suited for Success' and it's pretty catchy. It also demonstrates just enough syncopation and variation in order to keep the listener interested. The only bit I'm not too keen on is the section in the second half where there's nothing but dialogue over the instrumental backing. The music just doesn't seem to necessary here, though it might be a bit more effective if it was just brought down to a drum track at this point. But that aside, this is a good testament to Daniel Ingram's skill as a songwriter.
The Cutie Mark Crusade www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOY69M…
Technically this is background music, since it simply provides the soundtrack to the CMC doing their usual crusading in 'The Show Stoppers'. But if you ask me, this is really one of the few instrumental songs on the show that is distinctly memorable and enjoyable. It's also Pinkie Pie's jam, so if it's good enough for her then it's good enough for me.
Straight off the bat, this is a very happy song. D major is one of the brightest sounding key signatures and it straight away creates a feel of childlike innocence and playing with your friends as a kid. This is probably due to the synth sound of the main melody. I must say, Will Anderson struck gold when thinking to use that synth. If there was any instrument that sounds totally joyful to me then that would have to be it. The melody itself also speaks volumes of joy to me with its addition of portamento and chromatic appoggiaturas to the melodic line that particularly emphasises the triadic notes. The harmony is largely based around chords I and IV, but it has an extra element of uniqueness in the form of the Mixolydian mode. I don't know if many other children's show soundtracks make use of musical modes, but even if they do then I must say that it's really quite effective.
The structure is pretty simple, it's just a variations form. There's the main section in which the CMC try out some random task to see whether they can get cutie marks from doing it and the quiet bridge section in which they travel from one area of Ponyville to another and set up their next crusade. The main sections simply vary the melody, instrumentation or length in order to fit to their new task, whether it be pulling taffy, 'mountain' climbing or scuba diving. The bridge sections are still pretty interesting, despite their simple purpose, since they have a couple of pretty funky breakbeats to keep the rhythm going.
This song is actually one of my favourites from the show because it sums up the innocent and plain fun feel of the show as a whole. It does get a little bit repetitive towards the end, but it's still certainly worth taking the time to listen to and doesn't feel out of place in the episode.
The Perfect Stallion www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WCbSo…
You know, for the amount of originality put into it, this song is actually pretty overlooked. It's probably because it's rather short and was overshadowed by songs such as 'The Smile Song' in Season 2. It has one of the most original chord structures, for one thing. I have never heard the repeated chord sequence of I, II, VII in any piece of music before, and I don't know if I ever will again in all honesty (edit, I was wrong: 'Bonita Applebum' www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT0gVT… by A Tribe Called Quest and the song it sampled www.youtube.com/watch?v=628QJv… have that chord movement. It works really well in that too). Musicologists in the know may point out that chord VII in a major key is a diminished chord and sounds dissonant. This is true, but just like 'The Cutie Mark Crusade' this song is also largely in the Mixolydian mode. The flattened 7th eliminates the dissonance and actually sounds very nice in the context of this song. However, dissonance is used briefly to great effect through the appearance of a diminished 7th chord right before Scootaloo asks Big Macintosh if he's single or not. It highlights the tension behind the question and the return to the straightforward harmony acts as the release when they learn that he is indeed single.
One element of this song that I found peculiar for quite a while is the lyrics. Whilst the lyrics all make sense, I just found it odd that the CMC would be critical for a stallion being 'too tall' or 'too splashy'. Sure, they are trying to find the 'Perfect' stallion and all, but I did think they were being quite harsh to begin with. But then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. They're fillies with no experience of love (probably) who still have a childish and naive view of romance. Of course they'd only consider a stallion if he was 'perfect' in appearance! They seem to know the feelings that come with love if they intend to make Cheerilee's heart 'soar' and 'flutter', but they still don't know that there's much more to it than simply finding a good looking guy. The lyrics portray the CMC pretty accurately as characters, all things considered.
It's a short and sweet song, and it isn't necessarily one of the highlights of the 'Hearts and Hooves day' episode. But to disregard it as a great song in show would be quite a mistake, since there's much more to it than meets the eye, or ear, whatever.
This Day (Aria) www.youtube.com/watch?v=UzsxfO…
In retrospect, the Season 2 finale was a little bit of a mixed bag. quite rightly brought up some issues with the plot and addition of Cadence as a character in this blog entry: averystrange.deviantart.com/jo…, but I still managed to enjoy it for its effective art direction (or whatever the duties of a film director are called), voice acting and all that jazz. One thing that I couldn't quite understand, though, is why everyone thought that the 'This Day Aria' song was somehow the best in the whole show so far. I've never thought that, never even come close to considering it to be the best, and for the longest time I couldn't for the life of me figure out why I thought this.
I've thought it through quite thoroughly since and I think that it works well as a composition, I admit that, but it just doesn't have the same impact on me as it does to some. I've narrowed down all the possible reasons why and it ultimately comes down to the production. Normally I don't have a single problem with the production of the MLP songs since they're clearly professionally done and don't even come close to the brick wall mastering that's way too common these days. However, I think that if this track was to be as effective as it could be then it should be as realistic as possible. By that I mean that it doesn't sound like a genuine orchestral recording, which is probably because it isn't. If you listen to a recording of any piece of orchestral music then you'll notice that they're usually very quiet in order to gain more accurate dynamics, they come with a bit of reverb on all the instruments and overall sound just like being in a concert hall with an orchestra playing. 'This Day' is not produced like this, as the vocal is quite clearly louder than all the other instruments and has most likely had a compressor applied to it so that it's audible and clear at all times. This practice is essential for pop and rock mastering, but in orchestral music the dynamics are quintessential. The lack of real dynamic contrast is part and parcel of its lack of real effect.
The other criticism I'd have is with Britt McKillip's singing. She does fine as a voice actress for Cadence, but she just doesn't sound too menacing as the pseudo Cadence in this song. I'd say that she's good at singing in the sense that she can carry a melody, but her singing tone just isn't right to make her sound more expressive. It's for this same reason that I don't consider myself a singer, despite my ability to hit the right notes correctly. It's worth noting that in the reprise of this song Kathleen Barr sounds quite a bit more convincing as a villain, and therefore I prefer the reprise to the full version.
However I must admit that my criticisms are pretty unfair. It's not Studio B's fault that they needed to apply certain production techniques in order to make the vocals clear or that they might not have had a full orchestra at their disposal. And it's certainly not Britt McKillip's fault if I don't consider her to be to the same standard as an opera singer. But if I deny these criticisms then I deny my true feelings towards the song, which is something that I will not do. I'd conclude by saying that this song could have indeed been excellent if it weren't compromised by the production. It's not as effective as it could be for reasons that aren't its fault.
* * * * *
Please leave a comment if you have anything to say about these reviews. It's not too likely that it'll happen, but please don't be shy. I won't bite! I also hope that all my technical jargon didn't come off as mumbo jumbo.