• Elliot K

Tonal Shift


A photo of a park taken on a sunny day in winter
Marble Hill Park

Everyone goes through phases when it comes to what music they listen to, and I was no exception. Somewhere between my not-so-brief encounter with the Emo Trinity and my frankly inexplicable obsession with music by Pixie Lott and Ellie Goulding* (what the hell, twelve-year-old Elliot) came a brief fling with Feeder's The Singles.


I listened to Feeder's second compilation album on repeat for a couple of months whilst at secondary school, though I couldn't tell you when exactly. This album, with its mix of tracks released either side of the turn of the millennium, brought warmth and solace to what was a fairly cold and dark hour-long commute on the 280 bus in the winter.


The twenty-track album is an amalgamation of Feeder's older, post-Britpop style (Insomnia and Buck Rogers) and the more mellow indie and alt-rock tracks that they released in the early-to-mid noughties (Forget About Tomorrow and Tumble and Fall). The Singles' track-list concisely outlines the Welsh band's musical history and creative development up to 2006, when this particular compilation album was released.


Music can often and unexpectedly provoke feelings and emotions in people, and one song from the album that has always struck a chord is Comfort in Sound, from the 2002 album of the same name. The 16-note guitar motif that dominates the verses often fills me with a bittersweet serenity not unlike the uncertain relief one feels after an exam or job interview, only less unwanted.


Until fairly recently, I had believed the version of Comfort in Sound on The Singles to be the same as the version released on the eponymous 2002 album. On a recent walk during my lunch break, I decided to embrace a wave of nostalgia and revisit the song, but accidentally chose the 2002 version instead of the version found on The Singles (the version of the song that I was familiar with).

I immediately noticed a difference. The song felt quieter, slower, and was in a slightly different key to the version I had listened to on repeat almost decade ago. I switched back to the version from The Singles, the one that I knew, and continued on with my walk.

I had forgotten about this until a few days ago, and decided to research this further. As it turns out, the version of Comfort in Sound that I know so well was the 'Arena Tour' mix, which was released in December 2003 as as a single. It's sometimes referred to as the 'Spike' mix after the producer who mixed this newer version**.


This brief period of research also brought to light further details about Comfort in Sound that I had not previously been aware of. The album Comfort in Sound was released in October 2002, though celebrations regarding its commercial and chart success were muted; the band's drummer, Jon Lee, had taken his own life in January of that year, and the album's release marked Feeder's return to the limelight. The music video for Comfort in Sound features a montage of Lee performing at various festivals in the years prior to his passing.

With this new context, both the song and album Comfort in Sound take on new meanings. The album is an expression of grief and sorrow, both of which are thematically entwined into the music. Frontman Grant Nicholas re-wrote the lyrics to Come Back Around prior to the album's release so that they were more closely related to Lee's death, and Nicholas himself acknowledged that writing songs and making music was a cathartic method of coping with the drummer's passing.

In terms of musical differences, the variations between the 2002 original and the 2003 'Arena Tour' mix of Comfort in Sound are small but significant: the latter version has a faster BPM of 173 to the original's 168; the tempo change results in an upwards pitch shift of around half a semitone, or fifty cents; and the guitar melodies differ slightly in the intro and verse.


There are also noticeable differences in the instrumental and vocal mix of the two tracks. The 'Arena Tour' version brings Nicholas' vocals front and centre, whereas the original embeds the Welshman's passionate lyrics within the piece as if they were just another guitar melody. The original version of the song is measurably quieter by a few decibels and feels more muted as a result, whilst the 'Arena Tour' mix is louder overall, and the dynamic 'jumps' between the verses and choruses are less noticeable in this version of the track.


My take on the differences between the two versions is this. The original Comfort in Sound that was released as part of the 2002 album was a raw expression of grief from a band still mourning the loss of a key member and a close friend. Upon re-release as the 'Arena Tour' mix, the track took on a powerful new meaning - as NME's Jason Fox put it, "the best and most noble thing to do in such dire circumstances is to rock even harder". The subtle musical amendments and faster pace gives the track a newfound energy and drive - Comfort in Sound evolved from a track that lamented the loss of a close one into an anthem that now honours the very same person's legacy.


Even the simplest pieces of music can evoke an emotion or mood in the listener, and this new understanding of the significance of Comfort in Sound gives justification to the aforementioned 'bittersweet serenity'. It's a feeling that very much envelops you if you let it, a melodic cocoon in which you can find solace. As Nicholas belts during the chorus:


"Comfort in sound / it's all around

ease back the strain / come heal your pain"

* I should clarify that I distinctly remember receiving an iTunes voucher for Christmas one year and bought the first two albums I recognised: Lights and Turn It Up. I feel like I'm making this worse.


** Mark 'Spike' Stent's discography is very cool - here's his website.