Cardiacs: “Odd Even”

Six months ago I made some general comments about the musical vocabulary of Tim Smith (of Cardiacs). Here are some notes on “Odd Even”, a song that illustrates a lot of his standard tricks. The song is on YouTube here and my transcription is here (PDF file).

The form could not be simpler: three repetitions of verse (a 7-bar phrase repeated twice) and chorus (8 or 12 bars; in the second and third choruses the last 4 bars are repeated). The third verse is instrumental.

The introduction (which foreshadows the end of the verse phrase) is a straight-out “Smith cadence” (♭III–v–I in the key of E), which already renders it unclear whether we’re in the key of G major (starting on the tonic and repeatedly raising the tension) or E major (starting on the flat mediant and repeatedly resolving the tension). This ambiguity will persist throughout the song.

The start of the verse seems to resolve the question by claiming that we’re in G major, and could not refer more explicitly to the Lydian mode, with a C♯ over the G chord. Already this is a hint that we might be moving back to the sharp side soon. There’s an interesting clash between that C♯ of the melody and the C♮ of the C chord that arrives on the second bar. The harmony then moves through A and E back to G, apparently establishing that E is subordinate to G—but then immediately repeats the introductory Smith cadence twice, reestablishing the ambiguity.

The phrase rhythm of the first verse phrase is also quite interesting. From the melody alone it looks like a pretty straightforward [4+4]+4 beats, but the harmonic rhythm, as well as the way that the instruments enter during its first statement, implies 6+6.

The chorus starts by moving fairly strongly to the flat side of G, going all the way to E♭ before slowly relaxing back to G, and right through G all the way to Bm and E again. The feeling of resolution provided by G is lessened this time by it happening for only two beats on the second half of a bar, rather than lasting a whole measure as it did before. The melody here is really nice; a drone-like D is continually returned to on the bottom (it’s a common tone of all the scales passed through, including the E Mixolydian implied by the final destination of E) while the upper implied voice of the line descends from B♭to A to G, then returns up to B♮ and G♯ to both chromatically fill that third and also strongly establish the “surprising” E (not so surprising in reality since the G–Bm–E sequence has been repeating the whole song).

The chorus ends by following yet another path from G to E, this time by repeating the triple plagal cadence G–D–A–E and sitting on the final E for an additional bar. That relaxation of the harmonic tension certainly makes it seem like E was the final destination after all—but when the next verse starts up again, back in G, it feels like a return to the tonic rather than a jump away from it.

The instrumental verse suddenly triples the melodic speed, and it’s interesting to see such a relatively hyper solo in the middle of what is otherwise a fairly sedate song. I wouldn’t have thought of it when I first heard the song, but after listening to a lot of jazz in the last month, the solo has sort of a bebop feel to it, at least when you look at it on the page and imagine it being played by a saxophone rather than by a keyboard.

It looks complicated but it is largely doing the same things found elsewhere in this song or Smith’s work in general—emphasis on that Lydian C♯, liberal use of whole-tone scales, and near the end a gleeful insistence on B♭, a note dissonant against both G major and E major.

The song ends with a final chorus, repeating that G–D–A–E progression four times in a long exhalation and landing with relative finality on E. So maybe it was in E major all along? But I think the fight between the two potential tonics the whole time was a charade; the whole point is that both G and E are equally important, and to proclaim one of them superior to the other is to force one point of view on a song that is all about presenting two.

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15 Responses to “Cardiacs: “Odd Even””

  1. prow says:

    awesome 🙂

  2. Kieranfunzig says:

    Brilliant! More of this please.

  3. scragz says:

    Relevant Jon Poole quote about the instrumental: “I remember Tim had programmed the weird bit in the middle of ‘Odd Even’ and left me to find a guitar line amongst the chords so I was sat on my own dropping myself in. When he came back it was done and he was very happy… particularly with my choice of last note!”

    I’d be very interested in reading another one of these.

  4. dfan says:

    Wow, that’s Jon Poole on guitar in that solo? I totally assumed it was a keyboard patch. I agree that the last note is brilliant.

    I have a transcription of “Jitterbug (Junior Is A)” done, with an post in progress, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the coda. Your comment is a good incentive for me to get off my ass…

  5. scragz says:

    I always thought it was a keyboard and guitar playing the same thing.

    Really excited to read your take on Jitterbug! No advice on that coda…have you tried drugs?

  6. scragz says:

    Any chance of getting a sneak-peek at that Jitterbug transcription?

  7. GetReadyMan says:

    Sorry you haven’t been around for a while. I hope all is well.

    I’ve read your blog with great interest and have studied your transcription, but find a couple of points that I need to make.
    1.) The intro starts with a bar of 5/4 time (for the G) and next is a bar of 6/4 time (for the Bm & E). Perhaps giving rise to the song’s name, odd even. The verse starts with 2 bars of 4/4 time (for the G keeping the same strumming pattern) and next is a bar of 6/4 for the C, A, and E.
    2.) The chorus pivots into the key of G at the first G in the chorus and pivots out at the second. Notice the chord progression that has been repeated all along in the verse in the key of E (bIII-v-I) is now repeated in the chorus in the key of G (bIII-v-I corresponding to Bb-Dm-G).

    I hope this finds you well and I’m looking forward to further blogs on the Cardiacs.

  8. dfan says:

    Jitterbug will come at some point, I promise. Now you’ve all learned that the way to drag me out into the open is to comment on my analysis!

    GetReadyMan: 1) I listened again, just to be sure, and the song absolutely starts in a totally straight 4/4, starting on the downbeat. The regular strumming pattern is a repeated two-beat pattern of quaver, quaver, dotted quaver, semiquaver.

    I did mention the interesting phrase rhythm of the verse (“The phrase rhythm of the first verse phrase is also quite interesting. From the melody alone it looks like a pretty straightforward [4+4]+4 beats, but the harmonic rhythm, as well as the way that the instruments enter during its first statement, implies 6+6.”). The way that the initial 12 beats have both 4+4+4 and 6+6 implications is really cool, but the most straightforward way to think about it is as 4/4 all the way through with some groupings that cross bar lines, rather than the song weaving back and forth between 4/4 and 6/4.

    2) I’d say the song is already in G (well, “G Lydian”) before we even get to the chorus, but it’s possible to argue for some sort of E Dorian/major; as I say, that conflict is the major feature of the song! I agree that by the time we get to the Bm in the chorus we’re over in E-land.

    That’s a great spot, that Bb-Dm-G and G-Bm-E are the same progression, and in fact they’re joined together. Smith seems to likes to join similar chord sequences together that way. The big cadence is “The Duck and Roger the Horse” is another good example.

  9. GetReadyMan says:

    Glad to hear all is well and you’re still studying the Cardiacs.

    We’re hearing it a little differently (and that’s okay). I believe your ear is better than mine.

    If I understand correctly you’re hearing quaver, quaver, dotted quaver, and semi quaver repeated twice over the G. The strumming pattern would be DDD uDDD u.

    I’m hearing crochet, quaver, crochet, quaver, crochet, quaver, and quaver just once over the G. The strumming would be DDu uDDu.

    The main difference is you would have a uDDD in the strumming pattern while I’m playing a uDDu.
    It does not sound so very different!

  10. Greg says:

    Hi dfan,

    Very interesting posts about Cardiacs here.
    I would live to read the one you were preparing about Jitterbug, which second part is absolutely awesome!

    Cheers,
    Greg

  11. scragz says:

    Once a year I check this site to see if the Jitterbug transcription is out yet 😉

  12. JoostC says:

    Extremely happy to have found this. I am a very mediocre musician myself and can’t understand much, but the explanation “all whites starting from F instead of C” allowed me to, at last, understand one thing Tim does. A bit.

  13. JoostC says:

    Dammit. You’re probably going to laugh but this really opens up my “understanding”.

    Going from F maj – A min – C maj – F maj – G# maj – D# maj – G min – A# maj, that’s like ” Eden on the Air” with an “Ain’t He Messy” bit in it, right?

    Never mind if that makes no sense at all. I still hugely enjoyed that. Thanks.. I’d better go and find translations for dotted quavers and whatnot.

  14. JoostC says:

    Wait, maybe go from D# maj to C maj instead, missing a beat for mind fuckery purposes.

    Look mom I can are an ivel cardeac or what hey!!!

    Just don’t sell your double LP’s just yet maybe…

  15. Greg says:

    Jitterbug !!! Jitterbug !!!
    Jitterbug !!! Jitterbug !!!
    🙂

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