Hans Pucket ‘s No Drama – an intelligent song. Intelligence comes in many forms, and with regards to music in particular, sources of musical intelligence are often hard to pin down.
I mean with so many genres, cultures and traditions, how can we be anything more than subjective and a slave to our own sense of aesthetics, firmly bound by our own cultures and experiences? How can we be sure of anything?
That said, and borrowing from other disciplines such as semiotic analysis, perhaps we can look for clues in the music. In the case of Hans Pucket’s song No Drama, I will argue through this X-Factory exploration, that it is indeed an intelligent song. I hope you enjoy the journey.
As stated by Graham Reid (Elsewhere, 2022), the intro to No Drama is reminiscent of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, by way of the instrumentation (low strings) playing 8th note stabs, and also (perhaps at a stretch) by the melody itself, which shares both a melodic contour and similar rhythmic phrasing to the end of the vocal line sung in Eleanor Rigby – ‘I look at all the lonely people.’ Yes I may be reading too much into this, but the ideas of the protagonist being ‘lonely’ is akin to the Beatles’ classic – prosody in action perhaps?
Perhaps the next timely feature is the use of a predominantly 6-bar hypermeter, which starts on the repeat and second-time bar of the intro, continues through the verse at bar 9, pre-chorus at bar 21, and is only broken at the chorus at bar 27. It’s safe to say that most popular music uses 8-bar hypermeters, so it is a pleasant change to the norm. Hans Pucket’s use of hypermetric dissonance (moving between 6-bar phrases to 8-bar phrases and vice versa) is a useful tool, creating a sense of surprise between sections, this surprise acting as an emotional amplifier of sorts.
In terms of timbre, No Drama contains more than the average. Within a relatively short period of time, we hear strings with lead guitar (intro), percussion verse and chorus, stacked harmonies (sometimes operatic in nature), bass clarinet and horns (in the bridge) as well as conventional rock instrumentation. But I guess the point is that the timbre is always changing, building on previous sections without foreshadowing – surprise and freshness is key here.
Chromatic passing notes heard in the strings (20s), harmonies (1m10s) and horns (2m52s) provide sprinkles of non-diatonic-ness, as do secondary dominants in the bridge, and some quite close vocal arrangements, chord extensions (usually by way of added 9ths), all of which provide a sense of sophistication not always commonplace in rock music. Conversely, lots of simple ideas too, like parallel movement (1m14s), simple triads, power chords and a diatonic palette prevail. So arguably the success of this track can be attributed in part to the careful combination of the simple and complex.
The theme of the song is an uncomfortable reflection of one’s own shortcomings, supported by lyrics such as; ‘I am a coward, I’ll build a house around all my problems, I’ll have a party thrown in my garden, I’ll be adorable but despondent.’ These lyrics contain a sense of moroseness yet are presented with more than a side-helping of charm and humour, not an easy thing to accomplish.
And finally, the sense of ‘drama’ that is created through both the music and accompanying video needs to be discussed front and centre too. Operatic vocals, big brass and string sections act as incongruences to the theme, as do a bandmaster struggling to contain both music and musicians, a skater losing control, a pinch of abstract art (not to mention the vomiting scene), combine to the sense of self-irony present in this track.
Hans Pucket is an intelligent band. Intelligent because they write catchy music that appeals to the masses yet contains intricacies, intelligent in that the music borrows heavily from tradition, intelligent because the lyrics, like other bands in NZ, thrive on self-condemnation and irony, and intelligent as Hans Pucket seems a cut above the rest. Their music has flair, attention to detail where it counts and serves as a reminder that rock music can be both sophisticated and direct.