Weekly Billboard Theory — Thunder
Sigh. Here I am again. Being forced (by myself because I place these rules upon…myself) to write about Imagine Dragons. Last time, I went over how “Believer” is an alright song, albeit a corny one. This week I have to write about their latest hit in the top ten, “Thunder”. Honestly? The results will be kind of the same. You’ll see what I mean.
Key: C Major
Tempo: 84 BPM
The song is objectively fine. It pains me to say that because it’s so dang lame. However, the structure is better than a lot of songs that I’ve written about. The verses consist of going back and forth between the I and IV chord. Pretty standard. Choruses mix it up a little by sounding I-I-vi-IV. That little change makes just enough of a difference that it keeps the listener interested. When we get to the bridge I have to give the ol’ Dragons some credit with a progression that I don’t think we’ve heard this year: iii-V-ii-V. In classical music, you never really see a iii chord and you would probably just assume it’s a I chord in first inversion (the third being the lowest sounding note) but this isn’t classical music. This is noteworthy because I’ve been shouting for months about how important I-IV is in pop music but here we get an authentic cadence from V-I. We never really hear these on the radio and it’s always nice to hear something a little different. HOWEVER. Because we typically will hear V-I in classical music, it definitely sounds sort of out of place and ~corny~ in an “alternative” rock setting like this. Also, this song being “alt rock” is an entirely different argument that I don’t really want to get at but it must be nice to have radio money behind you so that you can take risks with your soundscapes and it still become a hit because it gets to enough ears. Sorry, that was kinda bitter. Whoops.
The song falls flat a little bit with its bassline. Yes, it’s rhythmic and lines up with the kick drum. This is always a good starting point. Unfortunately, it never deviates away from this and is meant to sound like a pitched drum sample so it never really sounds like a bass. Which can be fine sometimes! We don’t necessarily need a low instrument to just be a bass guitar. UNFORTUNATELY it becomes distractingly boring when it is linked so literally to the kick drum. I find this to be especially noticeable in the chorus as there are held out synth/fake guitar notes going on. If these notes were separated I feel that the song would do a much better job of holding my attention. U N F O R T U N A T E L Y the song had already lost my focus by the time we’ve gotten to the chorus.
There’s two reasons for this. The first is that terrible “Thunder” sample. Probably one of the most contrived things I’ve heard in top 40. I’m going through my head to try and understand the rationale of its use. There’s no other sample in the song so they’re unable to make a connection that it came from somewhere else. The only logical explanation is that they…thought it sounded cool? Let’s be very clear about this. It’s not cool. I’m not some gatekeeper of “cool” that passes judgement about trivial things but I legitimately believe that the song will be improved without that vocal sample. It feels as if the band is trying to cash in on EDM/top 40 pop by utilizing chopped vocals but it feels haphazardly thrown in. While I’m at it, the other reason I can’t get into the chorus is the actual performance of the verse. Every vocal line ends with a scoop up and like I get it, it’s a stylistic thing but there’s a disconnect between his vocal history and how this melody actually goes. Look at “Believer.” The chorus is this pseudo shouty thing that movie commercials love to use and now we’re getting this valley girl nonsense in “Thunder”? I’m not saying that artists can’t show range. Heck, artists can do whatever they want. H O W E V E R! This contrast is so extreme that it makes me ask, “how the heck is this even on the same album as ‘Believer’?” In a time of Spotify and artists that can just crank out singles like Nicki Minaj or Drake, what is the point of an album if it’s not creating an entire linked work? I cannot fathom a world where it makes sense for both of those songs to be on the same album. Yes, I’m being obnoxiously extreme with my thought process right now but that’s how distracting this is for me and why I can’t get over how corny this band is!
If we disregard how insincere all of this seems to me, the rest of the vocals are actually pretty good! There’s some clever harmony stuff going on here and there. For example, in the choruses we hear the melody in thirds. This way it sounds like the tonic chord is being sung. At the end of each of those choruses we get an extra voice on top adding another layer of harmony and completing the triad. That’s a cool thing! This is why I’m so conflicted! It’s like, the band does some smart stuff and they also do some really dumb sounding stuff (just like that sentence). I just realized that my good buddy Robert California can sum up how I feel about Imagine Dragons the way he feels about the Black Eyed Peas: “It’s rock and roll for people who don’t like rock and roll. It’s rap for people who don’t like rap. It’s pop for people who don’t like pop.” Ultimately, there’s great ideas in “Thunder” but it’s so hard for me to get passed the bad ones that I will probably change the station.
Now that I never have to hear that song again, let’s look at the charts for next week. Post, Cardi, Logic, Portugal, and those darn Dragons are holding to the top 5. At number six we have Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” which I haven’t actively listened to but I’ve heard a couple of times in passing and I’m definitely a singer for gorgeous girls that sing top 40. Will this be an exception? Probably not. Come back next week to find out anyways!