Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy

This song by A Fine Frenzy is a big favorite among fans of the youthful, star-crossed romantic singer-songwriter style. It’s a perfectly cut gem of a song with a personal, yet accessible lyric and a melody that gets stuck in your head.  It’s worth studying to learn how to write very personal lyrics that connect with listeners and create melodies that keep a slow-moving ballad compelling.

Moody, introspective songs like this one work well for film & TV. Songs by A Fine Frenzy have been featured in CSI:NY, Parenthood, House, The Vampire Diaries, Army Wives, and many, many more.

Here’s the official video on YouTube.

Recorded by A Fine Frenzy
Writer: Alison Sudol aka A Fine Frenzy
Read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers refer to specific chapters in my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting (“Hit”) and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV (“Film/TV”).

GENRE/STYLELearn more about Genres.
This solo Singer-songwriter style has become so widespread, it’s often thought of as a genre of its own. This intimate song style features the vocalist front and center with fairly minimal backup instrumentation. The lyrics are personally revealing and emotional. Listeners feel that the singer is speaking honestly about his or her life experiences.

While these songs don’t generally reach #1 on the charts, they’re a big favorite with film & TV music supervisors. This song made it to #23 on Billboard’s Hot AC (Hot Adult Contemporary) music chart. It did well enough to launch the artist’s career and build a fan base that came to her live performances.  The film & TV uses of A Fine Frenzy’s  music continued to build career momentum. This combination of breakthrough single, touring, and film & TV use is an ideal way to build a career as a solo singer-songwriter.

The song structure is:


The chorus begins with the title line: “Goodbye my almost lover” which is the hook and includes the title, a great way to fix the title in the listener’s mind.

The pre-chorus consists of just two lines: “I never want to see you unhappy / I thought you’d want the same for me.” The second pre-chorus is a repeat of the same lyric. While repeating a pre-chorus lyric is done in some successful songs, make sure that it’s a lyric that’s worth repeating. Here, it sums up her disappointment and surprise that the lover has let her down, an idea that’s central to the song’s theme.

The bridge begins with the line: “I cannot go to the ocean…” The melody and lyrics provide a peak moment reaching for the highest notes of the song, then plunging to the darkest line: “And I’ll bet you are just fine.”

VERSE 1 LYRIC: Right from the first line of the song, we’re given an insider’s experience of this relationship. “Your fingertips across my skin” conveys a physical sensation that every listener can actually feel. Palm trees and Spanish lullabies let us hear the whispery wind and voice. Then there’s an emotional description of a face (“The sweetest sadness in your eyes.”) so now we have idea of the mood and even a little of the physical look of the other person.

I have to admit that while I don’t think this is the most original verse lyric ever written, it does exactly what it needs to do; it pulls the listener into the scene where we can see, touch, and hear what’s happening. I love that. As a listener I’m inside the song with the singer.

PRE-CHORUS LYRIC: The job of the pre-chorus is to set up the chorus, building anticipation and energy.  Up until now, we’ve been treated to what could be a nice little romance, but the lines “I never want to see you unhappy / I thought you’d want the same for me” lets us know there’s trouble in this relationship.

Why doesn’t he want her to be happy? What’s wrong? Now, we’re looking ahead, anticipating the chorus because we expect an answer. That’s exactly what a good pre-chorus should do: Build up the energy and make us want to hear the chorus.

CHORUS LYRIC: The chorus has a strong opening line followed by a second line that restates the idea of an “almost lover” in a different way. “Goodbye my almost lover / Goodbye my hopeless dream.” Listeners might not know right away what an “almost lover” is, so it’s a great idea to provide more information. An “almost lover” is a hopeless dream.

The lines that follow take us deeper into the idea of an “almost lover” letting us know how the singer is trying to handle it. She turns away and tries not to think about him. Obviously that’s not working, adding to the yearning and pathos of the lyric.

The final line is memorable and wraps up the chorus with strength. Think of the last line of your chorus kind of like a punchline. It needs to pay off for the listener, wrapping up the chorus with a strong, memorable statement. And this is a good example: “Should’ve known you’d bring me heartache / Almost lovers always do.”

The listener can’t argue with that. It’s a statement of emotional truth. It also has a lovely symmetry about it with “almost” and “always” echoing each other. It’s a wonderful way to end the chorus, making listeners feel they’ve arrived at an insight, caught a glimpse of a deeper idea about lost love.

The important thing to learn from this melody is how to keep a slow ballad moving forward. Ballads can be deadly – especially one with bare bones production, like this one – if the melody doesn’t keep the listener moving forward. A slow melody with long pauses between lines and predictable phrasing allows listeners to tune out… and they will.

VERSE MELODY: The verse consists of two long lines, each one followed by a pause. Within each of those long lines, though, are shorter phrases like these: Your fingertips / across my skin / The palm trees swaying in the wind / Images.

These shorter phrases start on weak beats and end on strong ones – which is the opposite of what we expect. It gives the melody a fresh feel that keeps  listeners interested and a little off balance. The second line of the verse does the same. (For more on weak beats, strong beats, and phrasing, see “Hits” Shortcut #92.)

PRE-CHORUS MELODY: The pre-chorus breaks out of the pattern of short phrases to underscore a longer statement in the lyric. The melody in the second line descends, creating a moment of sadness and resignation on the line “I thought you’d want the same for me.” It’s just the way we would say something like that. It feels conversational and believable. For an emotional line like this, it’s a great idea to use the natural melody of speech.

CHORUS MELODY: After the low ending of the pre-chorus melody, the chorus seems to rise but the note range never really lifts above the high notes we’ve already heard. So, if she didn’t create contrast with note range, how did she do it?

⁃    She uses longer phrases in the chorus than in the verse
⁃    There are very short or no pauses between lines
⁃    All the lines begin on the “and” after Beat 1

By starting all the lines on the same unusual beat, she creates an easily recognized pattern that was different from the other sections. Melody patterns are very important to listeners – they can define a song section and make the melody easier to remember. By eliminating pauses, she created forward momentum that kept the song interesting.

Here’s an online post that will tell you more about using contrast.

The chords also help to create contrast in this song and are an important part of the ambivalent mood that swings from sorrow and loss to poignant nostalgia.

The verse rocks back and forth between minor and major, setting up a primarily minor feel.  | Am | F |

Then the pre-chorus suddenly emphasizes the major feel: | G | C | Dm | G |.

The chorus moves even further toward major feel. | C | G | Dm | F |
then | C | G | Dm | F | C |

The bridge is a simple descending chord pattern: | Am | G | F | Em |
then | Am | G | F | Dm | G |

I didn’t lay out the complete lyric with chords. Listen and play along with the track to hear how the chords fit in. It’s always good to make your ears do the work. 🙂

This is an easy chord progression to play. Learn to play and sing this song to get a feel for the phrasing, especially the differences between the verse and chorus.

For songwriting practice in this style,write a rough lyric of your own to the verse, pre-chorus, and chorus melodies to get a feel for how your lyrics sound with a contemporary singer-songwriter melody like this one.

This Youtube Video will show you how to play it on piano.

by Robin Frederick

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.

Songwriting BooksThis post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. In each book you’ll find over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.