Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on>"/>
Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.
Current chart position: #31 on the Billboard Hot 100; #11 on iTunes.
The team: "Somebody That I Used To Know" is off Making Mirrors, the third full-length from the 31-year-old Belgian-born Australian artist Wouter De Backer, who goes by the stage name Gotye. Gotye wrote and produced "Somebody" himself, and it's his first song to chart in the U.S. (It's also hit number one in seven other countries around the world). His guest vocalist on the song, Kimbra, is a 21-year-old singer from New Zealand, who released her debut album, Vows, on Warner Brothers Records late last year. The opening of the song samples "Seville," a 1967 track by the Brazilian guitarist and bossa nova singer Luiz Bonfá, who died in 2001.
Breakdown: Electronic technology is so endless these days that a lot of pop songs come out boasting walls of synths and layers and layers of edgy effects. So when a song comes around that's mostly carried by a strong vocal melody alone, it's something special. Besides the guitar sample, you could almost count the instruments on "Somebody That I Used To Know" on one hand--the xylophone, electric guitar, bass, synth, very sparse percussion, and one note of a dulcimer before Kimbra's verse. It's extra minimal, but the average pop music fan doesn't listen for guitar parts or types of electronic beats, they listen to the vocal line, the part that'll get stuck in their heads, and this song's melody is achingly memorable.
"Somebody That I Used To Know" is a wonder of simplicity. There's Gotye's verse, the chorus, Kimbra's verse, a chorus, and then it's over. There's no bridge. The verses are steady and uncomplicated. It's a clean and lovely song, but two things heighten it to a touching and emotional level--the quality of both Gotye's and Kimbra's vocals and the lyrics. Gotye sounds so muted singing the song's opening verse that it's almost startling to hear him break into the stretching high notes of the dramatic chorus. Kimbra's vocals sound a lot like Katy Perry's, which I mean as a compliment--she sounds kittenish, coy, persuasive and forceful all at once. Gotye and Kimbra both have knockout voices, and the harmonizing vocal acrobatics the two perform in the last chorus are mesmerizing.
Much of this song's popular success has to be attributed to its lyrical content. Heartbreak is universal, and Gotye captures all the hurt that every listener's ever felt with the words to this song--"But you didn't have to cut me off/Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing/I don't even need your love, but you treat me like a stranger/And that feels so rough. . . Guess that I don't need that though/Now you're just somebody that I used to know." Wallowing in sadness, feeling a hole in your heart--listening to this song is a sort of fraternal solace, like feeling reassured for all the times you've felt so low.