Daniel Compton

The personal blog of Daniel Compton - Projects

Muse - Starlight

Starlight was written by Matthew Bellamy, the lead singer of Muse after renting a boat to go fishing in bad weather and feeling sick back in their motel. In interviews they have said that the song is “a love song about missing someone you love, including family and friends

Intro (12 bars)

The song begins with a distorted bass and drums at a tempo of 121.5. This indicates the lengths that Muse has gone in preproduction to find the perfect tempo. A distorted bass outlines a harmony of I ii vi IV in B major which will continue for 90 seconds. The progression itself is relatively weak as it avoids the dominant throughout and finishes with a plagal cadence. The sequence ends with a plagal cadence further weakening the progression.

The simple snare drum pattern forms a main hook in the song (figure 1). The levels of the snare are raised above the rest of the drum kit and the snare consistently lags slightly behind the 2 and 4 beat to give a laid back feel. After four bars the piano countermelody, doubled faintly by a glockenspiel or similar instrument.

Verse 1 (16 bars)

Matthew Bellamy enters the verse and the piano drops out. The drum beat pattern is lengthened by a factor of two, probably to give variation to the original pattern and to put the focus on the song lyrics and away from the drums (figure 2). The bass harmony stays the same and the bass and vocal line move in similar motion for much of the verse. This helps to glue the two parts together.

B section (8 bars)

This is actually the same harmony and instrumentation as the intro but with lyrics. I decided to call this a B section rather than a chorus as it is very similar to the verse in harmony and instrumentation.

Verse 2 (8 bars)

Not much new here that we haven’t seen before in the 1st verse. There is however a new picked guitar line outlining the I ii vi IV harmony. Adding an element to the second verse is a common device used by songwriters to keep interest in the song. The line “Let’s conspire to reignite / All the souls that would die just to feel alive” alludes to the explosion in the next section.

C section (8 bars + 24 bars)

After a minute and a half of music with little fluctuation a change is due. Muse delivers this in what I term the C section but could equally be called a bridge. There is a key change to the relative minor and a new extended harmony. This is .

The tempo in this section rises 1bpm to 122.5 bpm. This change is not perceived consciously but increases the intensity of the song. Interestingly the song goes from the 2nd verse directly to the C section, likely because it would get too boring going to the B section before the C section.

The drums change to a straight bash rhythm. The guitars play powerchords with a quick change on the ‘and’ of the fourth beat of every second bar. This drives the song forward. There are synth arpeggiators in the background playing 32nd note chords in this part as a texture behind the main guitar

The second part of the C section drops the intensity to it’s lowest in the song. The arpeggiator carries on through and a picked guitar comes up similar to that in the 2nd verse, linking the previous sections. The intensity builds halfway through with backing vocals, 8th note synth chords and an 8th note snare pattern to build back up to the B section.

B Section (2)

Nothing new here.

Verse 3

The guitar line in verse 2 returns slightly modified and an octave lower. This verse serves to prolong the wait before the C section returns at a higher intensity.

C section (2)

The tempo lifts to 122.5 and the band digs in for the highest part of the song. No new elements are introduced in the first 8 bars but the guitar follows the voice line briefly on “promise not to”, emphasising that line. “Our hopes” section doesn’t drop and in fact builds higher. This contradicts our expectations from listening to the previous C section. At 3:27 backing vocals singing vowel sounds come in, building and building the song to it’s highest point before coming releasing the tension built in the final B section.

B section (3)

This final section concludes the song with Bellamy’s refrain “I just wanted to hold you in my arms, I just wanted to hold”. This expresses the main sentiment of the song.

Conclusion

A long lasting song is always more than just a hot riff or a groovy beat. It takes all of the elements of a song and perfects each of them so that each part feels tailormade like a suit. Starlight is a very clever pop song. Features of the song are it’s catchy hooks, subtle tempo changes, intelligent chord progressions but the whole is far more than the sum of the parts and Muse has taken every element of this song, stripped away the unneccesary and been left with a well fitting song.