• E.M.G.

It's a fire, Portishead

Dernière mise à jour : sept. 27

Listen to It’s a fire : https://youtu.be/ZKZCIeGDsmU

It’s a fire follows a ABA’B form. It is an ode to freedom and truth. It describes the feelings of someone who’s trying to reveal herself as she really is, without any artificial behaviour, and the challenge it represents in today’s society.

From measure 1 to 4 : Instrumental introduction

In this introduction, chords alternate between D- and E7, while the bass follows a stepwise motion around MI (RE, MI, FA, MI). Originally played with a synthesized strings sound, upward arpeggios was a solution to transcribe it for Piano while keeping « sound continuity ».

Concerning the melody, it alternates between LA and SOL or LA and SOL#, note the delayed 4th (LA) on measure 2 and 4 over the E7 chord. So, this introduction should bring the key of A minor !

Part A from measure 5 to 18 : reality

Measures 5 to 12

It's a fire These dreams they pass me by The salvation I desire Keeps getting me down.

But what better than the key of C major to describe reality ? Indeed, there is an avoided resolution on measure 5, with the CM chord instead of the A- chord.

Moreover, these 8 measures (divided in 2 groups of 4) are the ones which fit the most to a « Classical » division of the musical speech (harmony and melody).

Chords changes are CM, GM/B, E-, GM, FM/C, CM, G7sus4, GM. Note the use of the degree III (mes. 7) as a substitute chord of the tonic (degree I), and the FM/C chord (mes. 9), which is in fact a double approach of CM chord tones (3rd and 5th).

Concerning the melody, it turns around RE (mes. 5 to 8) and follows a downward stepwise motion from FA to SI (mes. 9 to 12).

Notice the use of the FA#, major 9th of the degree III, also remark in measure 11 the delayed DO, which resolves on the 3rd SI in measure 12. So, there is therefore a semi-cadence in measure 12 (half-close on dominant chord).

Measures 13 to 18

'Cause we need to Recognize mistakes For time and again

These 6 measures are divided in 3 groups of 2. From measure 13 to 16, chords alternate between E-7 and GM. Note the avoided resolution again (mes. 13) of the GM (mes.12) with the use of E-7 (degree III) instead of CM (tonic degree).

Measures 17 and 18 can recall measures 3 and 4. As the melody plays the roots, chords are inverted (FM/A and EM/G#) to avoid parallel octaves. This last chord EM brings the key of B major.

Part B from measure 19 to 40 : a new awakening

Measures 19 to 22

So let it be known For what we believe in

Here we are in the B major key with the BM chord and its substitute G#- (degree VI). This key of B major sounds much brighter than C major and fits perfectly to the lyrics which become more hopeful.

Measures 23 to 26

I can see no reason For it to fail

In these measures, chords roots follow a harmonic sequence in thirds: F#sus4 to AM and EM7 to G#M, passing through the keys of B major, E major and bringing the G# mixolydian mode. Harmonic tension grows up because music and lyrics get closer to the climax.

Melodic tension increases too, with larger intervals and the highest note of the song, SOL# on the word « fail ». Remark that this word « fail » is the only one to be sung on 3 different tones (RE#, SOL#, RE#). Moreover, one of these tones is a major 7th (of the EM7 chord, mes. 25).

Measures 27 to 40 : the climax

Measures 27 to 31

'Cause this life is a farce I can't breathe through this mask Like a fool

This climax sounds in the very bright mode of G# mixolydian (with the chords G#M, F#M and C#M/E#). Note that the word « farce » is sung once again on the highest pitch of the song (SOL#, mes. 27). The vocal melody is mainly on DO# and SOL#.

Remark the stepwise downward bass line (SOL#, FA#, MI#, RE#, DO#), and the modal interchange from G# mixolydian to C# mixolydian with the chords BM/D#, F#M/C# and C#M.

Measures 32 to 40

So breathe on, sister, breathe on

Here is the conclusion of this song, still harmonized in the C# mixolydian mode. Concerning the vocal melody, note the use of the major 7th on the BM7/D# chord.

Part A’ from measure 41 to 50

From this oneself Testify or tell It's fooling us now

Part B from measure 51 to 72

So let it be known For what we believe in

I can see no reason For it to fail

'Cause this life is a farce I can't breathe through this mask Like a fool

So breathe on, sister, breathe on Oh, so breathe on, little sister, like a fool

Coda from measure 73 to 84

It sounds in the C# mixolydian mode, with some modifications in chords inversions: BM, F#M/A#, C#M… and approach notes in the lead.

What to remember from It’s a fire ?

A perfect match between keys or modes and the lyrics.

A vocal melody which fits to the lyrics too (mes. 25...)

The use of a climax (mes. 25 to 27).

A surprising use of chords changes with avoided resolutions (mes. 5, 13, 19, 24, 26, 29)

The use of substitute chords of I (mes. 7, 13, 15, 21)

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