To be totally frank, this song came about because a musician friend of mine gave me some constructive critcism about my songwriting that made me really insecure and introspective. I mean it wasn't even really that tough or anything, I just have a tendency to overthink things. And in the end I guess I should thank him for making me stop and try to write a song in a way I'd never tried before.
Most of my songs are kind of written as they're being recorded. So like, the first half of a song could be 100% recorded and mixed, with the second half not even having been written yet. It's a "straight-ahead" approach to songwriting that gives you more instant gratification and lets you know sooner if a song is working out or not. However, Dorian Gray Show has the distinction of being one of the first songs I wrote where like, I mapped out the entire skeleton of the song with just a cheap keyboard patch and a basic no-fills drum track before I even started adding other instruments, and when I added them I laid them on one at a time and put a lot of thought into each layer.
It was a lot more meticulous and patience-testing than I was used to songwriting being, but I think I ended up with something a lot more structurally complex.
The song ended up being this huge mishmash of everything I was listening to at the time, which is usually my favorite kind of song. But it does mean there's a lot to talk about.
The long, slow, calm buildup leading abruptly into a faster, louder thing is a songwriting trope I've always loved and there are too many songs to count that do that, but I was mainly thinking Mr. Bungle's Sweet Charity, Childish Gambino's Me and Your Mama and Kero Kero Bonito's Outside, though I guess Outside is a unique case where the "calm part" isn't so much "the beginning of the song or a previous song on the album" as it is "their entire musical careers leading up to this song". The calm bit in Dorian Gray also has a little bit of Lambchop in it too I think, and the loud part actually being mixed way louder than the rest of it definitely draws from The Mars Volta's Cygnus, Vismund Cygnus.
I think a big flaw with this part though is it's kind of a barrier of entry for the rest of the album and it's a little repetetive, and every time I've seen people listen to it on streams or whatever they always wonder why it's mixed so quiet and go to turn it up and I have to warn them not to.
Like I said, I had Kero Kero Bonito's Outside in the back of my head for a lot of the song, and there are some metal influences here and there, but let's be real- this song could not be more Cardiacs. it's so Cardiacs that it's almost a little embarrassing. Apart from the more obvious superficial influences (arrangement, ascending scales, hemiolas and rhythmic fuckery, even slowing the tempo during the finale), I think like, I went into it trying to shove as many disparate musical ideas into a three minute song as possible, so that it ends up being kind of a "mini-prog" song, or a prog song with the length of a punk song. Which I think is very Cardiacs.
Shit, now we're at the part where I talk about the lyrics. This is the first one of these I'm writing and only now do I realize how heavy they're gonna be, both to read and write. Put on a fart sound effect compilation or something.
Basically, the lyrics are a 21st century retelling of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, in the style of like, a Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt episode. This was written at the height of the #MeToo movement and I guess it was me processing the feelings of betrayal I felt toward people in the entertainment industry I looked up to. I don't often intend for my songs to be topical but some just kinda turn out that way because usually lyrics reflect how I feel during the production of a song.
I never wanna give too much away about the specifics of lyrics because I find a lot of value in figuring them out yourself through repeat listens, so I guess have fun with that.