A quiet beauty: Mirrorball by Elbow

Inspired by hearing Peter Gabriel’s cover of ‘Mirrorball’ on Scratch My Back, I went in search of the original.

There’s a hypnotic beauty to this, a stark simplicity to the ostinato running through it that imparts a quiet majesty.

The subtle shift to the mediant minor – G minor – works because the piece is in E major; the move to G minor negates the tonic’s major third, a brief extinguishing of the major key and imparts a bitter-sweet sense to the harmonic flavour. It’s only fleeting, though – there follows an F sharp major chord, and we’ve undergone a iii-ii-I cadential progression, enhanced by the aching G natural – A – G sharp figure in the accompanying strings.

Actually, the piece is in E, but the theme yearns upwards to a minor seventh – listen to the first line ‘I plant the kind of kiss / That wouldn’t wake a baby,’ where the D natural on ‘wake’ introduces a dominant seventh. Strictly speaking, the piece should modulate at some point to A major, if the dominant seventh on E were to function properly. But it doesn’t; the dwelling on the dominant seventh creates a sense of yearning, of unrequited sentiment and a lack of fulfillment.

There’s a quasi-minimalist quality to both the texture and the harmonic fabric of the piece, giving it that bewitching appeal.

It’s a mesmerising track; give it room. Elbow room.

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