Obsessively Detailed: The Second Verse to Screaming Females’ ‘Broken Neck’
Obsessively Detailed is a column where I go at length about trivially minute details that get me more excited about a song than is reasonable.
Listen to the riff that hits to the chorus at 0:28. Distorted guitars scrawled against the hospital walls. Then listen to the return to the chorus at 1:07. Marissa’s voice raises, prepping the listener for her trademark squall accompanied with swaths of power chords. Your ears brace for the impact, but it doesn’t come. Instead downright lush sounding full chords come in, it’s almost soothing. There’s the slightest bit of gain, but it’s faint, and the whole experience is bewildering.
This is one of my favorite songwriting tricks, and it’s the kind of move that riff-centric bands rarely get. There’s two goals here, one is the classic of playing with our expectations. A great songwriter knows when to give the listener what they want. People love to have an expectation filled, but they also need to have that expectation subverted to keep them on their toes. The expectation here (especially if you listen to a lot of Screaming Females) is for a big chunky riff. That’s anticipation is rewarded the first go around, then switched out the second time. What’s so great about how it’s executed is that it makes you listen to the song differently every time. That’s the second goal, that through 30 seconds you think you know exactly how the song will go before the floor’s ripped out from you. It gives the illusion of a complex winding song, despite it being in a mostly verse-chorus-verse-bridge format. Not only are you engaging the listener, you’re giving the illusion of complexity while providing a hook without having to even write a melody.
Screaming Females may be well regarded for their tenacious live shows and powerful musicianship, but this right here is pure craft.