Pure ’90s: Lisa Loeb’s “Split Second”

A blasting power chord fades into the background as Lisa Loeb whispers the first verse of “Split Second” over a looping drumbeat. A snare roll crescendos into another burst of electric guitar and by the time Loeb steps back from the mic, a full band is thrumming along in mid-’90s pop-rock glory. Moments later the song kicks into the second verse which, as the saying goes, is the same as the first, save that this time everything has been amped up by a degree: The full band is represented and Loeb is actually singing the lyrics—the very same lyrics she sang in the first verse, mind you—rather than whispering them.

When the song pulls back for an incandescent guitar solo, it seems as though the composition is moving on into new terrain. And then the solo fades out and Loeb is back, her voice flanged by studio wizardry, whispering those same lyrics over a roiling sea of feedback that soon blossoms into an oddly cathartic full-voiced, full-band finale. And that’s it. After three iterations of the same verse that span all of two and a half minutes, “Split Second” has come and gone as quickly as its name implies.

lisa
This is, apparently, not a woman with time for faffing around.

What’s always intrigued me about this song is that, truthfully, it’s even shorter than it already seems. “Split Second” is really one eight-bar passage styled a few different ways and presented back-to-back-to-back. If you’re of the mindset that any particular musical idea should be honed and refined to its purest state, what Loeb has done here is show her work; “Split Second” eventually gets to the most essential version of its brief bit of material but before it does, it walks you through the developmental process, setting the table for what’s to come.

You can certainly argue that this is a simple way to build a song—it’s just one eight-bar passage with the same lyrics repeating over and over!—but that argument ignores the nuance that really makes a song click. With each passing iteration of its core loop, “Split Second” makes subtle changes to how it presents itself, ushering in new sounds and building tension in novel ways that draw the listener forward. And then, having said everything that can be said with its material, “Split Second” ends. There’s no filler here, just pure, refined ’90s rock. I love it.

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