Analyzing Bob Mould’s “I Don’t Know You Anymore” – an Airtight and Perfectly Crafted Gem

Bob Mould is a godfather of modern pop-punk songwriting. From his legendary band, Husker Du, to his solo work, to his short-lived 90s band, Sugar, his skill and influence are without question. He just released an awesome new record called Beauty & Ruin and the first single is “I Don’t Know You Anymore.” It has the feel of previous Bob-related hits like Sugar’s “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” and is just a perfect pop-punk gem – exactly the kind of song I want to hear from him.

The first thing that sticks out to me about “I Don’t Know You Anymore” is its catchiness and airtight construction. It’s a song with no excess fat. I like to refer to songs like this as “airtight power-pop songs.” Notable artists that like to write airtight songs include The Thermals, Green Day, sometimes The Ergs, and most of the power-pop bands of the early 80’s. You can almost see the lineage! Airtight songs often have the following format:

Instrumental intro (optional, oftentimes it’s the chorus without vocals)
Verse 1
Chorus (with optional pre-chorus)
Verse 2 (with new lyrics but identical melody and structure to verse 1)
Chorus
Bridge (often based in a different key or at least starting on a surprising note)
Verse 3 (very optional)
Chorus (repeated)
Outro (optional)

Like the blues form, this is a tried-and-true format that can really show the true skill of a power-pop songwriter.

The Song

The song is in the key of A major and save for two instances (covered later), sticks to conventional chords. However, the chords are structured in clever ways that drives the song forward. Following the Airtight Power-Pop Song format, it starts with an instrumental section that later serves as the chorus  and is built on I – ii – IV – V (or A – b minor – D – E), a very comfortable sounding major key progression. However, note that Bob is using this progression as the basis, but in the guitar is employing his trademark approach of big ringing chords with various tensions that give this progression some “meat” and a bit more of a melodic feel.

The Verse

The verse progression is actually pretty complex for an Airtight Power-Pop Song, but it still feels comfortable and builds perfectly to the chorus. It goes as follows:

With numbers:

I                        ii                               IV                                        vi – V

A thousand pieces of my heart swept across the weathered floor

I       ii                       IV                                   I

No idea how to start solving puzzles from before

IV                                                  vi

Maybe in time this confusion will fade

I                                                           II              IV                      V

But every single error we made is right there on display

With chord names:

A                  b                                       D                                                f# – E

A thousand pieces of my heart swept across the weathered floor

A      b                                 D                                       A

No idea how to start solving puzzles from before

D                                                            f#

Maybe in time this confusion will fade

A                                                       B(major)    D                            E

When every single error we made is right there on display

Let’s look at what’s going on here. First, you’ll notice that the verse starts out in a similar progression to the chorus. However, in that first line it throws in the minor vi chord leading naturally to the V for a nice variation. The next surprise comes with the beginning of the third line where instead of a I we get the major IV chord. This leads to the fourth line, which prepares us for the chorus. Finally, we get a unique chord with the major II chord (the ii chord is a minor chord in a major key) and my ears tell me it might be a II7, but either way it has the same effect. That outside-the-key chord brings us into the classic major key pop turn around of the IV-V into the poppy chorus. These are conventional chords – but the forward momentum that is built shows that this is surgically precise writing.

The Chorus

Musically, the chorus is simple: I – ii – IV – V. However, the lyric structure is worth discussing. Bob is a master of building songs from one great lyrical line. Here, it’s the title of the song: “I don’t know you anymore.” In this song, he uses a classic lyric writing approach to highlight this line. In a four-line lyric,  points of emphasis are naturally on the first and last lines. So where does Bob put it? That’s right! The first and last lines. Also notice how the third line structurally leads into the line again:

I don’t know you anymore

Name and face have been obscured

Change them if you want but

I don’t know you anymore

The Rest of the Song and the Bridge

From the first chorus, we go straight to another verse and another chorus before hitting the bridge. The purpose of the bridge is to bring a different feel into the song to give it some depth and variation. This is usually reflected in both the chord choice and lyrics. Here, Bob employs what is maybe the most classic technique of the Airtight Power-Pop Song bridge: a short bridge that starts on an unexpected chord. This type of bridge can be heard in a myriad of songs, but some quick examples are “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements and “J.A.R.” by Green Day. I’m a big fan of this move.

Here, we’re in the key of A, but Bob starts the bridge on G, which is the flat 7 in the key of A – a chord that is outside of the key of A. For an entire treatise on this chord, go here. This outside-the-key chord gives us that needed variation. From there, he keeps the bridge very short – only 8 bars before bringing us back to a guitar solo over the verse progression – a classic move – into a few repeated choruses to the end – more classic moves.

There you have it – Bob Mould is a master of pop-punk songwriting and his output should be required listening for anyone interested in this style.

Feel free to leave your thoughts and questions in the comments!

 

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