Saturday, February 25, 2012
If you like Gotye, thank The Police
Belgian-Australian performer Gotye (pronounced GO-tee-ay, like the French "Gauthier") burst onto the scene earlier this year with the wildfire-like success of his single "Somebody That I Used to Know," a collaboration with Kimbra from his 2011 release Making Mirrors. The song's mass appeal is understandable; it combines an unusual beat with multi-instrumental accents like xylophone, distorted surf guitar, and a strange, haunting guitar effect that sounds like a theremin. The song is primal in its subject matter, but manages to express a very familiar human emotion over a sound that feels fresh and cutting-edge.
But if you're at all like me, the first time you heard this song, you thought, "Who's doing this great cover of a Police song?"
Because every single element that Gotye uses to his advantage in "Somebody That I Used to Know" was pioneered by Sting and company in the late '70s and early '80s. These elements can be found in just about any song by The Police from that era, but perhaps no song better illustrates this point than "Can't Stand Losing You" from their debut album in 1978:
First, the obvious parallels: these two songs are in exactly the same key and are powered by the same unusual, reggae-inspired beat. They are both about lost love. (Nothing terribly amazing there; half of the songs ever written are about lost love, the other half are written about love not yet realized.) Both use the technique of a restrained, single voice on the verse before opening up into a full-chord harmonization on the choruses.
But then there are the subtler similarities, like the way Gotye apes Sting's phrasing (both plaintive and powerful) when he goes full-throated on the choruses, or the way the drums come in splashy toward the end of the song to kick up the energy level.
In almost every way, "Somebody That I Used to Know" sounds like a direct reference to "Can't Stand Losing You." So if you like Gotye, remember... thank The Police.