I wish to start this review with a confession. I, like many, had presumed that Ed Sheeran’s grip on the stagnating charts was so strong that I had started writing this week’s column on the subject. I was going to complain about the mediocrity of Shape of You, denounce the state of the charts, and even make the bold prediction that Ed would remain at number one until Harry Styles released another single.
You can imagine my surprise then, when on Friday evening I see that Symphony, a song that had milled around the top five for a number of weeks, was sat in Ed’s throne. All of the signs were there. Symphony had been top of the UK Spotify chart all week – a list I was planning on championing as the future of charting music. But talk of a chart revolution can be put on hold as the British public have kept the top spot turning without the need for an intervention.
Symphony is the latest output from the electropop powerhouse Clean Bandit. The trio first burst into the charts with the ‘classical-crossover’ Rather Be and the album New Eyes, setting out a manifesto of string heavy tunes with huge pop appeal. Yet, their chart topper Rockabye, which was void of strings beyond a 20 second intro, managed to stay at the top spot for nine weeks, securing last year’s Christmas number one. It seems that over the course of an album the shift has gone from a classical fusion to a streamlined pop outfit, producing tropical house that Sean Paul inexplicably features on.
Despite its orchestral title, Symphony still lacks the strings that flavoured Clean Bandit’s first album. They are there, but deep in the mix; only flourishing in the chorus. However, the track does have more of a europop influence which feels more genuine than the band’s forays into dancehall. The song starts with plucky, childish electronics which underpin the verses. This makes way for house-style drums and risers going into chorus. Very typical, but done well.
As is the case for many chart topping producing teams, Clean Bandit outsource vocals, with Swedish star Zara Larsson lending her cords here. She comes fresh off the back of releasing her debut album So Good, where Symphony features as a bonus track. This continues a long line of powerful female features including Jess Glynne, Anne Marie and Louisa Johnson. As with those artists, Larsson’s performance lacks light and shade, but tracks like this almost require the constant intensity shown here.
A weak point of the song is the bridge. The short series of ‘ah’s’ provide no changing of interest, particularly over the same melody heard right from the start. Overall though, I cannot complain. Having stopped writing for a moment I can confirm that Symphony passes what I consider to be the single most important test. The melody and hook of the chorus are now circling around my head and look reluctant to leave. Little else can be asked from a number one single.
Finally, let us turn to the world of biology and neurology – for I am a man of science at heart. Neural or sensory adaption is the effect whereby neurons stop responding to sensory stimuli that they are overexposed to. This is the effect the causes your brain to effectively ‘block out’ constant, monotonous sound and treat it as silence. So when the track in review starts with the line “I’ve been hearing symphonies, before all I heard was silence”, I can relate. Compared to the adapted silence of Shape of You, anything would have been a symphony to my ears.