The musical tension in this song in unbelievable. It doesn’t matter how many times I listen to it, I still get goosebumps. One reader, Liz, said something similar in a comment thread: “I can sense unrelenting tension and can’t really put my finger on why.” So let’s think about that.
As with All the Rage, I think the form of “My Desire” plays a big role in messing with our expectations. As you can see in my break-down below, only some of the sections are of a length that’s divisible by 4 (4 being the most common way of dividing up musical form and creating a sense of balance).
The intro is 6 bars long, while the first Verse is a mammoth 18 bars long. We finally get what might be a chorus (due to the fuller texture) nearly one minute into the song, but it turns out this section is another “anticipatory” one. Another 6 bar interlude, a shortened Verse, a second Pre-chorus, and at 2:25 we finally get this intense “release” section. Then we get another interlude, short Vs, Pre-chorus, and an extended Chorus. The really powerful thing about reaching 2:52 the first time I listened to the song is that, now that I’d heard the Chorus, I was pretty sure it was coming back at least once more, which, for me anyway, increased the feeling of anticipation even more.
Sam’s drum part is crucial to my perception of the form and all its wonderful imbalanced, anticipatory affect. A big part of how a drummer indicates, or demarcates, phrase structure is through the use of fills. There’s the normal drum pattern and then at crucial points in the song’s structure there will be added cymbals or a cascade of syncopated snare hits, etc. to indicate that we’ve arrived at certain markers within the song.
The first real demarcator we get (after the drums enter at 0:14), is a crash cymbal 11 bars into the 18 bar Verse 1. This is notable because fills/demarcators tend to split the sections evenly, so for an 18 bar section we would expect the cymbal to happen at the end of bar 9 or beginning of bar 10 to mark the halfway point, but Sam delays it another bar, dividing the section as 10+8 instead of as 9+9.
The fills we get in the Pre-chorus mark the section more evenly, but they (the fills) begin earlier than one would expect; in the fifth and sixth bar of the 12 bar Pre-chorus Sam hits the crash and does an extensive snare pattern, making it feel like we’ve hit the end of the section and are moving into a bigger sounding section, but this expectation is “thwarted” by the continuation of the section. The fill reappears at the end of the Pre-chorus; for the first Pre-chorus, the build-up is again “frustrated” by a return to the intro material, which makes the eventual release into the Chorus after the second Pre-chorus even more ecstatic. The Chorus, by the way, has a perfectly expected crash hit at the beginning of the seventh bar, thereby dividing the 12-bar section evenly in half.
All of this unevenness and creation of tension of course begins with Daniel, whose guitar pattern consistently pushes against the strong beats, only hitting the downbeat every other measure. Here’s his opening measures:
Paul’s vocals also create tension with syncopated rhythms, and he sings very high in his register until we hit the Chorus, where he relaxes into a much more comfortable range.
When I have time to transcribe the entire song I’m sure I’ll be able to elaborate more on the ways in which Interpol sets up expectations (anticipation) and delays resolution (release) in Desire. In the meantime I’m going to continue to enjoy listening to it over and over again!
“My Desire” (quarter = 104; 4/4 time)
[pitch collection: B natural minor hexatonic scale; like the B natural minor scale but with the G omitted]
0:00 Intro: 6 bars
0:14 Vs 1: 18 bars
0:54 Pre-ch: 12 bars
1:21 Interlude: 6 bars
1:35 Vs 2: 10 bars
1:58 Pre-ch: 12 bars
2:25 Ch 1: 12 bars
2:52 interlude: 6 bars
3:05 Vs 3: 10 bars
3:28 Pre-ch: 12 bars
3:55 Ch 2: 24 bars + 1