Strong is an interesting song for many reasons – not least the refusal to adhere to the usual trappings of work in this genre. The decision to use different states for backing vocals adds some very unusual textures and dynamics to the arrangement.
The melody on the verse is very non-traditional, and all the more refreshing for it, whereas we are on safer ground with the pre-chorus, which absolutely gets on with its job of anticipating the chorus.
But the chorus is different again – in a good way. Until we arrive, there are some simple guitar parts, organ pad and some interesting bass lines keeping the unusual verse melody company. The pre chorus introduces the drums and points the way.
The chorus sits in a muscular groove from the get-go, and we expect the vocal melody to play around it with some abandon – especially when you consider the sweet, soft natural tone that Mark’s voice has. But it doesn’t – it sits right in the groove, with the octaving bass doing the heavy lifting. The vocal then delivers a simple melody that surprises because it’s so simple. This has the effect of creating a further tension and anticipation that only gets paid off half way through the second line of the chorus, where Mark’s voice soars up to where we probably all wanted it to go! We then get the title of the song on an even bigger and longer note: ‘Strong!’
Strong has been well recorded: the rhythm section sounds tight and contemporary, and there are enough arrangement dynamics to keep you nodding along at the rockier moments and listening to the lyric in the quieter moments. It’s classic songwriting that has enough spice to mark it out as a thoughtful development on Mark’s previous releases.