Working For The Man
by
P.J. Harvey

This song starts with drums which sound small, flat, and tinny. Then the buzzing bass line rumbles and resonates. It’s mostly one pitch, and all of its notes are of the same length (eighth notes, I think), but it’s rich with harmonics. Then the bass quiets long enough for a vocal line to be sung, then starts again. The vocal melody is also of one main pitch (the same as the bass line, in a different octave), descending to another at the end of each phrase. In this way the vocal and bass set up a question-and-answer format until the chorus, where both parts work simultaneously (although still in very strict rhythms of four), pausing twice to bring back the verse bass line, and deep in the background, slightly off the beat but still in rhythm with the drums, one can hear the sound of clanking machinery. In the second verse, vocal harmony is added to the “question” parts, and then, as if to balance out the “answers”, a melodic guitar line plays when the bass does. But while the harmony is just one pitch, like the melody, the guitar line is constructed of four or five different pitches, not quite arpeggios, snaking up and down. In the second chorus, an organ underlines the vocals with chords. Afterwards, things seem to break down a bit, as vocals which seem at first improvised actually imitate the guitar line, playing simultaneously. The third verse and chorus are similar to the second, then comes a section in which the same vocal is repeated several times over the guitar and bass.

What I like about this song (other than the fact that it somewhat inexplicably makes my butt move, which is a very strong factor) is the way standard rock and roll (or blues, if you prefer) instruments fulfill nontraditional roles. When the bass and guitar play simultaneously, it is clear the bass is providing the dominant riff and the guitar is merely atmospheric. The vocals are muddy and muttered, and snapped off in a way that imitates the drums. I also like the fact that it takes the entire length of the song to reach a point where all four instruments feel comfortable playing together, which is rare. And last but hardly least, I really enjoy the lyrics to this song and the way that its formalistic qualities enhance the themes of machinery and repression that are being sung about.


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