Well, I’m back. This time I’m going to do something a tad different. I’m going to pick a vocalist that I find good, and break down the nuances of their performance that I think makes them stand out for two reasons. First, is simply that I said I’d do it in my introductory post, and second is that the music that one listens to using their hi-fi equipment cannot be divorced from the music. The impact of all of the things that I’ll be pointing out in this article are are enhanced by a high quality setup. Without further delay, I’ll be analyzing Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday.
The things that warrant Adam being the first to be analyzed don’t have that much to do with his voice but rather what he does with what he has, specifically, his use of dynamics, varied tonal quality of different registers, and phrasing of lines.
The first song that I’ll be taking a look at is MakeDamnSure. The first thing that warrants attention is the way he sings the very first line of the song — a very large audible inhale followed by a tone with a bit of heat without being loud. In addition, there is a very pronounced gap between words even though the transition between notes is fairly smooth. The second thing of note comes with the chorus where Adam’s register shifts from a lower croon to a nasally whine with the same phrasing and heat. The adjustment of only one variable in his voice allows the nuances in his performance to stand out. The next section to look at is the bridge where Adam uses the same contrast as before except instead of there being a larger break between the switch as earlier, he jumps directly from a croon to the high pitched whine during the line “No, you won’t ever get too far from me” while maintaining the tone in the chorus.
The second song I’ll analyze is Great Romances of the 20th Century. The first thing of note is how lazy Adam is with pitch — constantly sliding up and down to the desired location. The most important thing to note is that this is not an example of a bad vocal performance. In this case it happens to be what makes a fantastic one — it adds to the angsty pop-punk aspect of their sound. Another aspect of the vocals that should be noted is how the loud/soft contrast of the band is exemplified in Adam’s voice. The beginning of the song starts loud while Adam sings in a loud wail but when the band gets quiet, Adam is reduced to a weak croon of “it’s falling apart, it’s falling apart”, adding a sensitive aspect to the performance before it explodes into the next verse. At this point, you may be finding Adam’s constant wailing obnoxious, but focusing only on him misses the point. A very large portion of what makes Adam good is his synergy with John Nolan and the way that they create opposites in their performances. A prime example is how Adam and John switch parts with movement in them during the song. For example, while John sings “You always come close but this never comes easy”, Adam wails “I still know everything” while holding the last word through John’s moving part creating a large amount of contrast. The last section of the song illustrates how vocal performance can illustrate mood. Initially, when Adam begins singing “I’m in your room. Now is this turning you on? Am I turning you on?” he sings it in a questioning, nervous sounding voice and on the second repetition of the sequence gets louder and more theatrical before finally returning to the louder wail that Adam began with.
Why analyze a voice that isn’t technically “good” and call it fantastic? Because music isn’t about being perfectly on pitch or having perfect vibrato. It’s about communicating a story in a fashion that resonates emotionally and most important in doing it are things like dynamics, changes in timbre, changes in phrasing, and adjusting a vast amount of things about one’s voice as doing each one thing right is irrelevant if the rest aren’t. A change in volume doesn’t accomplish very much emotionally if it’s not also accompanied by a change on vocal tone to match in the same way that sounding timid doesn’t do much if a singer belts at maximum volume. A truly great vocalist is in control of every little nuance if his/her voice and uses that control to adjust it in a meaningful fashion and that’s what Adam Lazzara is capable of.