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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Cruel Summer" fits the mood during a heatwave

...which, through yesterday's post, I may have caused. Sorry, folks. But enjoy Bananarama regardless.


Well, I should've seen it coming. I write about "Walkin' on the Sun," and how that song just sounds like it's emanating summer heat... and now Berkeley will has highs in the mid- to upper-70s for the next few days. It's like we've temporarily joined Australia in the Southern Hemisphere.


It's the unexpected heat like this that feels the heaviest. It just weighs you down when you're in the time of year where you prepare for the cold. Plus, being in the throes of a tough week of classes — yes, even this early in the semester — means I'm feeling even more weighed down and tired than normal.


I looked for something on the more upbeat side to talk about today, but nothing to which I listened felt like it fit my mood, especially once I hit 80s territory in my music perusal. It's not like I was feeling complete existential dread (plus, I've already talked about "Land of Confusion"); I just wanted something a bit darker from the norm. Surprisingly, I soon found what I was looking for in — fittingly for the day's weather — a song that's about trying to cope with the heat in Bananarama's "Cruel Summer." Sure, it's actually winter, but today feels like August, and I'm the one who decides what to write about anyway. "Cruel Summer" it is.

The darker aura of "Cruel Summer" begins with the synth bass line, which establishes the song's minor key. It has a certain weight to it as it begins with quarter notes, but the subsequent syncopation lightens it up enough to keep the song moving and dance-friendly. The swung sixteenth-note lead synth, reminiscent of a marimba, presents the other side of the sonic coin: a light, summery sound darkened by its line firmly being in minor. The inherent duality in both lines makes them an excellent match for each other, as they combine to establish both the track's summer setting and its narrator's exasperation and disappointment. Subsequent instrument additions, including a synth pad and a somewhat plaintive, yet bright rhythm guitar, further the sonic ambivalence that makes the song so compelling to me.


On the vocal side, Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward sing a descending verse melody as they try "to smile, but the air is so heavy and dry." The descent matches the dour lyrical mood and really sells the idea that, when you're left alone in the heat, the bliss typically associated with the summer never comes to fruition. The melody for the majority of a phrase in only three unique lines. The first two occur in all choruses, when Bananarama sing "leaving me here on my own" and "now you're gone." It's as if they're trying to make the most of a bad situation, but they can't escape the reality of their scene. The third and last instance is the only line in all of "Cruel Summer" that offers a bit of solace: "You're not the only one," which is first heard in the second chorus. It's a moment of empathy based in the narrator's own depressed state, but it's empathy nonetheless. Maybe considering they know they aren't the only one, they can make something happen with others who feel the same way. Alas, the song fades out before any potential respite, leaving that possibility unlikely.


As I press "Publish" only to resume working, I find that "Cruel Summer" perfectly encapsulates how I feel today, even with a roommate and plenty of people to talk to. It's hot, even getting into the night, and the world feels out of reach with the responsibilities I have. Luckily, Friday is looking like it'll be a lot better, even in similar heat.

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