Benjamin Clementine in his stormy yet serene ‘Adios’
Before venturing into this song analysis, I recommend you watching Clementine perform this song at Burberry Menswear 2016:
When reading Benjamin Clementine’s small passage on the ‘Info’ page of his website, the phrase below appears, communicating the importance of sincerity in music:
“I sing what I say, I say what I feel and I feel what I play by honesty and none other but honesty”
His latest album ‘At Least For Now’ is a collection of songs whose focal points lie on music skill shown through the vast variety of things he can do with the smallest amount of instrumentation. While further listening to Clementine, one might also realize his honesty in music is demonstrated through a just reflection of the vast talent and knowledge he encompasses. Clementine’s vocal singing techniques range from having melody-less speaking to high-pitched, rich falsetto and his instruments play with rhythm, melody and dynamics. During his song ‘Adios’, Benjamin Clementine completes a journey in the variety of- and interaction between sound(s) where different sections of the song serve as milestones to demonstrate this process of exploration.
The are very few instruments used in this song, with the studio-recording of the song consisting of a cello, violin, piano and vocals. However, it is the interaction and the absence thereof between these instruments that creates a certain richness to the song. The table below shows the form the song follows with three verses, three choruses, and a monologue, interlude and pre-chorus.
The song follows an A-B-A structure where section A is the exploration of the main idea of the song and section B is an idea that is aurally very distinct to the main section. Both sections however encompass a conversational quality in the lyrics and especially with the use of the pronoun ‘you’.
“Adios to your afternoon” (Verse 1)
“You’re just a little bit too late” (Verse 2)
This quality is expressed to its fullest in the monologue of the song, with the constant repetition of ‘you know’, a phrase one uses in casual conversations but also a phrase that urges a response back.
“You know last time when that angel had been in, you know, she left, and I don’t know other things about angels anyway” (Monologue)
The sound of the song during these sections determines the extent of the conversational quality of the lyrics. The musical accompaniment to the verses, in comparison to the monologue, is harsher in sound and darker in musical timbre. The monologue on the other hand is perceived soft and bright. The layers of sound playing during the verses also function as layers of distance. Musical accompaniment to the verses adds drama and highlights the performance of the words over the purpose of the words themselves . The absence of music in the monologue leaves no additional layers between Clementine’s voice and the listeners ears and allows the listeners to concentrate on the purpose of the words, which are to engage in conversation.
The galloping rhythm is the most characteristic trait of Section A and the piano and cello are the two instruments that consistently maintain the rhythm of the section. The song begins with a single piano and its galloping rhythm followed by Clementine’s voice. The cello is introduced thereafter in verse 2 playing the same rhythm and making the texture of the song denser. Although the piano and cello are playing the same rhythm, the sound produced by the piano is colder and has more definition when compared with the cello whose consecutive notes seem softer and almost melting into each other. The sound and aural effect of pressing a piano key is significantly more prominent than the playing of a string with a bow. This contrast is strongly visible in the introduction of the live performance, where the cello and piano play the same rhythm but the sound produced by the cello appears softer to the piano. The violin part enters playing the same rhythm last, however only for the first eight beats of verse 2 and then proceeds to play longer notes for the second half of the verse. The violin’s range of pitch is significantly higher to the piano, cello and the artist’s voice and its contrast with the lower-pitch notes of these instruments balances the density of the song to give it a more even and well-rounded sound. The bright timbre of the violin brightens the timbre of the entire section. As mentioned earlier, there is imitation between the part of the violin and Clementine’s voice. Just as the violin plays with playing shorter and longer notes during the verses, Clementine’s voice does so in similar fashion.
Adios to your afternoon
Cause tonight I will be forever
Following the colosseum moon
Into a certain room (Verse 1)
For a majority of the verse, the notes of the melody are much longer to the notes lines 4 and 5 “Cause tonight […] moon”. In lines 4 and 5, the rhythm vocal melody accelerates to that of the piano and cello.
The interaction of words and music is further heightened in the chorus of the song. The high degree of repetition in the chorus with each line repeated twice and every line ending with ‘mine’ adds to the fiery nature of the song. The chorus is also a section of climax in the song where all instruments are played to produce a well-bodied, aggregating sound. The artist’s voice and violin imitate each other as Clementine stresses the word ‘mine’ and the violin sharply accents the note on the word ‘mine’.
The monologue and interlude of the song contrast with the main idea of the song, but also complement and contrast with one another. In one sense, the monologue is a section with words and no music and the interlude is a section no words and with music. Yet in their absence of the other’s only element, they are complementary. In a more logical sense, the monologue explains the purpose of the interlude and the necessity of the monologue itself, in order to help listeners, understand the interlude better. The relationship between the two make a listener more conscious of understanding a song as a whole in connection with all its parts rather than focusing on different parts without thinking about how they connect with one another. In the live performance version of the song at the Burberry Menswear Fashion Show, this contrast is further emphasized by the longer duration of the interlude.
Furthermore, the Burberry Fashion Show is an interesting live performance of Clementine’s song with elements more-emphasized or de-emphasized. The violin is absent from his instrumentation and supplemented with a longer and more prominent cello part. His voice, although still pristine, assumes a certain rawness to it which adds to the authenticity and the power of his performance. All in all, Clementine’s performance at the fashion show is the ultimate statement to describe his music- he was the star of the fashion show with a majority of the audience more interested in the variety in his music than the variety on the runway.
Clementine, Benjamin. “Adios.” Spotify. N.p., 08 Apr. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <https://open.spotify.com/track/4qSZApchhJHBWyDhUECiv4>.
Exclusive Interview with Benjamin Clementine. Prod. Amazon Music. Perf. Benjamin Clementine. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvr1QZ6TLJ0>.
Clementine, Benjamin. “ADIOS.” Benjamin Clementine. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. <http://benjaminclementine.com/poetry/adios/>.
Benjamin Clementine Live at the Burberry Menswear January 2016 Show. Dir. Burberry. Perf. Benjamin Clementine. YouTube, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 3 Dec. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZSZEFUMpz4>.