Everyone was feeling The Weeknd‘s “Can’t Feel My Face,” one of three 2015 No. 1s by Swedish super-producer-songwriter Max Martin. Fans include pop savant/songwriter Adam Schlesinger, the Fountains of Wayne bassist who is earning raves for his work on The CW’s new musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Schlesinger breaks down Martin’s genius on “Face,” second by second.
0:01 “The quick intro with synth pads tells you this record is going to have a lot of atmosphere. It sets the mood efficiently.”
0:08 “There’s nothing except the voice, and it draws you in.”
0:44 “The chorus is lower on the scale than the pre-chorus. You’re taught that the chorus should be where you’re really going for it with high notes. This is the opposite; the hook is kind of relaxed. It’s the contrast that makes it work.”
1:19 “In the second pre-chorus, we have harmonies, which we didn’t the first time, then the second chorus brings in countermelodies. There’s all this new sonic information, so it doesn’t feel like you’re treading water.”
2:13 “Instead of a bridge, everything drops out. You’re back to this world of atmosphere.”
2:21 “The half time implied in the rhythm track makes it feel like the song is slowing down. Then there’s this big rise. They make you wait an extra bar for the last chorus. The danger is that the chorus doesn’t sound exciting anymore, so you make people wait for it a little longer.”
2:42 “Everything we’ve heard in the song finally comes together, but there’s still lots of space.”
3:18 “They clip the vocal and go to an instrumental jam-out, which is unusual. The groove is so great, and you get a couple of bonus bars at the end.”
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.