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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Cure "Fascination Street" Song Analysis

Psychonaut4 requested a song analysis of The Cure's "Fascination Street," a US-only single from the 1989 album Disintegration. The album was the biggest selling Cure album ever, with over 3 million copies sold world-wide. As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song form, the arrangement, the sound and the production.

The Song
"Fascination Street" is a good example of a riff song, which means that the entire song is built around a single repeating riff. That makes it particularly difficult to differentiate sections, since instead of chord changes, each section is built on arrangement elements or lyric. Here's what the form looks like:

Intro, Verse, Chorus, Interlude, Chorus, Outchorus

The only time the song varies from the main riff is at the very end when the first half of the bass riff repeats itself for 4 bars. The other thing that's interesting is that the intro is extremely long, taking 1:24 to get to the verse.

The Arrangement
This song is particularly dense with guitar parts that play multiple lines against each other. One of the reasons why we always say that you should never have more than 5 elements going at once is that the listener can get fatigued when there's that much going on. "Fascination Street" pushes the limit in this regard, but manages to pull it off (more on how in the Sound section). The arrangement elements look like this:

  The Foundation: The bass riff and the drums

  The Pad: There's no traditional pad, but the doubled chorused guitars that are panned hard left and right during the intro and choruses serves the function in this case.

  The Rhythm: There's any number of guitar lines that serve the function. Pick one.

  The Lead: Multiple lead guitar lines in the intro and interlude, and lead vocal.

  The Fills: None in that there's not an instrument that plays in the holes between the lead phrases.

The Sound
The sound of "Fascination Street" is particularly English in the massive use of delay on every guitar and vocal. All delays are long (mostly 1/8th and 1/4 note) and timed so they blend into the track. The vocal is interesting in that the delay also has reverb on it, which gives it a nice distant sound. The bass is very mid-ranging and present (sounds like a Rickenbacker) but also has a good deal of low end. The snare has a very tight gated room, which is pretty much of product of the 80's, but it wears well today.

There are a lot of guitars in the song (I counted as many as 5 at once, although there very well may be more). Usually when there are that many lines happening at the same time there are some frequency clashes, or even worse, the song gets confusing because there's so much going on. I don't know if this was just luck or intentionally great engineering, but all of these guitar parts work well together because they're not that well-defined and tend to blend into one another.

The Production
What's cool about this song is it's long and the verses and chorus are short, so there's a lot of space with just guitars in between. That said, the parts constantly change so it never gets boring. In fact, you can think of both the intro and interlude as having almost mini-sections, since you can hear complete theme changes within those parts.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you. Psychonaut4.

Steve-a-roonie said...

So, the 5 rule would be something like: drums, bass, guitar, vocal, and keyboard?
I have a tendency to overdub a bit too much at times then. Usually only reinforcing things like double tracking vocals, etc., but I'll have to look more into this.

Anonymous said...

Psychonaut here again. I play guitar in the band The Drowning Season. ( I am also our producer, studio engineer, etc.. Matt our singer keyboardist loves to write songs with up to as many 5 synth parts. It drives me crazy trying to mix our songs. Could you please give a brief explination as to why so many synth parts are bad? Thanks.

Bobby Owsinski said...


Check out this link for an explanation of arrangement elements.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for about six months. I actually found it when googling how to arrange a song and song analysis. This blog was exactly what I was looking for. And now you break down a Cure song with a slightly untraditional song arrangement and tons of guitars that somehow mesh. Thanks for the great work, it is slowly helping me get a handle on the process conventionally and unconventionally.


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