Published Dec 14, 2020Just a couple months after Song Exploder's debut mini-season, Hrishikesh Hirway's podcast-turned-Netflix-show is back for four more episodes. The show seems to have worked out some of the growing pains from the first season, although it's still looking for that one incredible episode to make it come alive.
Like last time, the show takes an in-depth look at the songwriting process, breaking down one track per episode using song stems and artist interviews. Also like last time, the songs are a mix of new and old; we begin with Dua Lipa's 2020 banger "Love Again" before moving into three older tunes: the Killers' "When You Were Young," Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and Natalia Lafourcade's "Hasta la Raíz."
Predictably, the older tunes have far more interesting stories behind them. Dua Lipa may be a cheerful and entertaining interview subject, but when discussing a song that came out earlier this year, she and Hirway don't find much to talk about beyond how the song was inspired by a breakup and how there's a couple of extra beats leading into the last chorus — not much you can't learn simply by listening to the song.
The benefit of hindsight makes the other episodes much more insightful. The Killers talk about how 2006's Sam's Town helped them find their footing after a wildly popular debut album, and Natalia Lafourcade shares her compelling journey of self-discovery in which she used music as therapy.
By far the best episode is "Hurt," as Trent Reznor shares some spooky stems and, most crucially, digs deep into the song's emotional resonance. Given that none of the artists featured here have particularly outside-of-the-box songwriting processes, Reznor's emotional vulnerability proves to be far more interesting than anyone's discussion about how they wrote a riff on keyboard but eventually decided to play it on guitar instead.
Song Exploder's second season isn't gripping, exactly, but it goes down easy. It's a little less self-serious than last season, and there's less awkward time spent sitting around listening to multitrack recordings. It probably won't make you see any of these songs in a new way, but it's enough to make a third season sound like a welcome idea. (Netflix)