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"The Rat" -- A Musical Analysis

[ “The Rat� never fails to enthrall me. The song, released from The Walkmen’s 2004 album Bows and Arrows, incorporates a simple melody with a clear-cut rhythm, as well as expresses heartfelt lyrics in an upbeat tempo. “The Rat� evokes an intense adrenaline rush, considering its heavy drum beat and powerful vocals, and temps the listener into moving with the flow of the song. It is nearly impossible to remain still during this song, which is broken down into basic elements in the following paper. ]

Generally, people who listen to music decide whether or not they like a particular song by focusing on the melody or catchiness the tune has to offer, disregarding seemingly unimportant details such as form and texture. Although this is a common method of determining a song’s popularity or likability, it is essential to note that songs are comprised of several characteristics that make each song unique. Of the songs the band The Walkmen is most known for, “The Rat� is arguably one of the best, which can be established by analyzing its form, texture, rhythm, melody, lyrics and timbre as separate components that blend together to craft an amazing song.

In terms of form, “The Rat� is fairly simple. The melody in stanzas 1 and 2 is broken into three smaller segments (A, B, and C as noted below) which are played consecutively and repeat throughout the entire song:

(NOTE: this diagram is incorrect and unable to be fixed due to the format of this page)

A--- A--- B--- B--- C--------------
A--- A--- B--- B---
A--- A--- B--- B---


The music is composed of three different verses, two of which repeat and have the same melodies while the other is played only once with a different melody altogether. There are only seven stanzas in the song. The set-up (stanzas 1, 2, and 3) is like so:


Intro 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 Outro


Stanzas 1 and 2 are divided by the start of the melodic phrase, Segment A, while Segments B and C are played throughout each stanza. Between stanzas 2 and 3, a calming interlude with a slower tempo and softer dynamics is played without vocals or drums and occurs only once in the song.

As far as texture goes, the song is rather straightforward. There is a monophony in which two different instruments, the keyboard and guitar, play a single melody in unison. The guitar begins playing while the other instruments join in one by one, creating a more complex texture. There is a very even harmony that supports the melody.

The rhythm in “The Rat� is constant throughout the whole piece. The beat is regular and there are 8 measured bars of 4 beats in each section, with 168 beats per minute. When the interlude begins the song seems to slow down, but in reality the beat is consistent while the dynamic softens. The drummer has the same tempo as the rest of the band, but while the other instruments carry a single rhythm throughout most of the song (the intro, interlude, and outro differ), the drummer has a pattern of his own which carries the song and adds a feeling of intensity. The drummer’s pattern cycles throughout about two-thirds of the song while the other one-third matches the other instruments. The drummer has a repeating rhythmic pattern that differs from the other instruments, which results in a total of two repeating rhythmic patterns in the song.

In relation to melody, there is a perceptible melody line that is repeated throughout the song, sounding fairly composed and being played by two instruments. The overall shapes of the phrases in the song are smooth, plain, and simple. There is a central tone that continuously resounds all through the song, beginning with the interlude and maintaining until the very end. This tone is set by the one of the guitars and is sometimes accompanied by the keyboard. The pitches in the song move with very smooth transitions, and as noted before, there is a repeated pattern.

The lyrics of “The Rat� were said to have been written in five minutes time, according to Songfacts.com, and it is amazing that the words blend so well with the song, even without rhyming. There is nothing very deep or insightful about these lyrics, but the way they are emphasized as well as the way they describe a story make them seem much more profound. The lyrics of stanza 1 are smooth and follow the melody line of the instruments, but in the last line of the first stanza of the song, the word “know� is accented with a yell apart from the melodic flow:

You've got a nerve to be asking a favor
You've got a nerve to be calling my number
I know we've been through this before


In the second stanza, the verbs in the lyrics are stressed. The singer increases his intensity when singing the verbs for stylistic purposes as well as to highlight the importance of the words. Verbs such as “hear� and “see� are emphasized, as well as phrases like “calling out your name� and “pounding on your door� in order to illustrate the emotion of the situation described by the song. The third stanza is unique because it is the only stanza that is not repeated. An interlude precedes this stanza, and when the words are sung the instruments have died down, making the audience focus directly on the verse. It is a great technique that draws the listener more fully into the song.

“The Rat� is comprised of both instruments and vocals. The instruments include two electric guitars, a drum set, and a keyboard, and there is only one singer. The lead guitar vibrates to produce the sound of the song, caused by the reverberating strings of the guitar after being played. The tone quality of the sounds has a metallic tint and appears to be a bit brassy and grating.

This song is characteristic in several ways. For one, it utilizes a simplistic approach to the basic strategies of rhythm and melody as well as contains a plethora of elementary lyrics. In the middle of the song, an interlude breaks the song down into separate instrumental parts while continuing to maintain unity, which is a riveting effect. The voice of the lead singer is a key factor in the song’s distinctiveness; there is an aspect of familiarity that the vocals offer. Though it is hard to describe such familiarity precisely, it is obvious upon hearing the song that the listener can relate to the voice. The singer brings both comfort as well as an air of power and control, making the song unique in its own right.

As one of The Walkmen’s most famous musical pieces, “The Rat� has a lot to offer to its listening audience. The song’s basic elements, such as form, texture, rhythm, melody, lyrics, and timbre, are fitting in regard to the band’s genre, indie-rock. “The Rat� is clearly a good song when simply listened to, but only after deeply analyzing the work can it be fully appreciated as a great one.