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by Robbie Williams

This is one of those productions that intrigues me as an arranger because of its sound layering. The opening piano and sax combination caught my ear immediately, for instance, and I like the way it appears to be bolstered with subtle electric guitar layers as the texture begins to thicken further at 0:25, as well as how the piano shifts up the pitch register to lend the grouping more ‘poke’ from the first chorus. You can clearly hear a harp supporting the string section’s lead-up to the chorus each time (a tried and trusted string-scoring trick), but I imagine that it’s been ridden up with fader automation at these points in the mix and probably performs a less audible ‘black ops’ role at other points too. (The harpist Marcia Dickstein is credited on the arrangement, and although she’s most audible at 0:41, 1:38 and 2:36, I can’t imagine they’d have bothered getting her in there just for those bits.) There’s another little revelation awaiting if you solo the stereo Sides component during any of the choruses, because you can clearly hear the timing of the backbeat claps, and they’re surprisingly spread out in the time domain.

Considering the scale of the forces involved, this track is a real achievement from a mixing perspective. It must have been a battle to maintain any kind of clarity with so many things going on at once, even with many of them being quite staccato in nature, so it’s a testament to the skills of the engineer (Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, I believe) that you can actually hear as much arrangement detail as you can.

The bass part in the choruses is worth considering here too, because of the way it anticipates the harmonic rhythm for bar three at 0:45 – a nice little production hook which also has a 3/16 flavour across the bar line that I’ll forever associate with Skrillex’s ‘Scatta’! Listen for the the subtle ‘ooh’ backing vocals pad as well if you’re interested in real-world applications of pads – it’s best heard at 0:58-1:06.

And, talking of harps earlier somehow reminds me of one of my favourite Stravinsky quotes: “Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps, and 10 percent playing out of tune.” I can’t snigger too loudly, though, as those percentage figures probably work out the other way round for violists (such as myself), which is arguably worse…