Monday Notes

Sade, Kiss of Life. A song without cadences?

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[Monday Notes no. 161] Kiss of Life is a song by British singer Sade Adu that has a typical 90s sound. This piece is very peculiar because it apparently does not even contain a cadence. Let’s try to analyze it to find out if there really can exist a pop song without cadences.

The verse of Kiss of Life is very simple, based on a few chords. We can hear them in full at the beginning as an intro, and then again with the melody of the verse. The piece is in the key of A major, I have indicated the degree of each chord in relation to the root scale.

Kiss of Life accordi

Among the chords in the song there is one notable missing: the dominant chord. It is missing the V-degree chord, which is used in the main cadences; in this case it would be E or E7. Apparently Kiss of Life is therefore devoid of cadences.

Instead, in the piece we find a passage that contradicts our expectations, not closing the cadence as the ear leads us to expect: in fact, the sequence IV III II does not end on the I degree, as would be obvious, but rather on the VI degree.

And it is precisely between II and VI degrees that the main cadence of this strophe occurs, a deceptive cadence. We should remember that the deceptive cadence occurs when the V degree does not resolve on the I but does resolve on the VI instead. In this case, the II degree does not resolve on the I (if it did, it would be a plagal II I cadence) but on the VI, with a deceptive cadence where the V degree is implicit.

Kiss of Life cadenza d'inganno

Listening to the verse again and again, we realize that this final F#m7 chord is always surprising, unexpected. And that is precisely where the deceptive cadence takes place.

The B part of the song, or refrain, is simpler. The piece modulates to the relative key F# minor and plays several times the movement IV I, plagal cadence in the minor mode.

Kiss of Life cadenza plagale

Kiss of Life is thus not without cadences, however, the great absent is the perfect cadence, which rarely fails to appear at least once in a song. Its absence makes the harmony flowing, ambiguous, delicate. An absolutely perfect choice for the rarefied atmospheres and languid rhythms typical of Sade’s music.

Contributing to make the piece even more interesting is the melody, which often touches tension notes. In part A, the melody touches the major 7th of Amaj7 and the 11th of F#m7. In part B, it insists instead on the 9th of the Bm7 chord.

Kiss of Life melodia

Sade’s music is harmonically very simple, and the arrangements are also smooth and transparent. Everything contributes to a definite, very elegant, dreamy sound. Also contributing to the whole is the vocal style of the singer, with her timbre devoid of vibrato and of any excess.

What about you, listening to Sade’s Kiss of Life, can you detect the movement of deceptive cadence that occurs between Bm7 and F#m7? Do you also experience that feeling of surprise, of unexpected movement? Let me know your opinion in the comments section below!

Until next Monday

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