I can’t completely remember how I knew about this album, but I’ve long associated IT with The Auteurs’ Now I’m A Cowboy. Again, I’m not sure exactly why. They were both British with kind of brush-stroke album covers? I feel like they may have both been promoted CDs at the record store where I worked in the summer of 1995. But this came out in 1993, so that doesn’t make a ton of sense, either.
Anyway, the most prominent feature of this album is that it’s the band’s debut album and it’s a double album. They may have been able to get the whole thing on one CD since it clocks in at 77 minutes, but I know it was two vinyl albums. We are at peak album/CD culture at this point in time. (Side note: tried to explain to my four-year-old what an album was two days ago. Tough.)
Anyhoo, I see on Wikipedia that the band is described as chamber pop, and that makes sense, but I would emphasize chamber more than pop, and even modern chamber more like Kronos Quartet than Mozart. Everything is closely mic’d and the singer is mixed way up front in the mix, making the most of his Nick Cave-esque vocal range (i.e., not much of one, though it is a beautifully husky voice). You get the feeling throughout the album that there’s a low talking mumbler whispering in your ear for over an hour.
It works beautifully, though. There are plenty of wonderful melodies and the orchestration…you could teach a master course on this, the way an atonal trumpet takes “Tyed” from being a nice song to being something special, or the way slight little touches of distorted guitar or a pure xylophone (or some kind of tuned percussion) sound adds just the right je ne sais quoi to a piece that would otherwise be a little too same-key, same-tempo as the others around it.
This maybe didn’t need to be a double album…there’s a stretch in the middle where I start to fade. But I’ve never heard another band quite like this, and their contribution goes beyond being unique to being enjoyable on both a visceral and cerebral level.
Mix: “City Sickness,” “Drunk Tank”
– “Tyed,” “Whiskey And Water,” “Blood,” “Marbles,” “Milky Teeth,” “Piano Song,” “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 3,” “The Not Knowing
– “Nectar,” “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 1,” “Patchwork,” “Walt Blues, “A Sweet Sweet Man Part 2,” “Jism,” “Tye-Die,” “Raindrops,” “Her,” “Paco De Renaldo’s Dream”
– “Tea Stain”
Song Notes: After the jump
- Nectar – so mumbly
- Tyed – Nick Cave. It’s the atonal trumpet that makes this one.
- A Sweet Sweet Man Part 1 – really short, just kind of introduces the theme, both lyrically and musically
- Whiskey And Water – nick cave
- Blood – Maybe on a double album you can edit out the false starts, huh?
- City Sickness –
- Patchwork –
- Marbles – A bit too slow with not much happening for full heart, but some really delightful moments where a voice creeps in under the music or some guitar experimentation sets just the right note. Gets so wonderful at the end.
- Walt Blues – 1:08. Carnival music. Warped. Kinda like Mr. Bungle’s first album way toned down.
- Milky Teeth –
- A Sweet Sweet Man Part 2 –
- Jism –
- Piano Song – I’m not even sure there’s piano in this.
- Tye-Die –
- Raindrops –
- A Sweet Sweet Man Part 3 –
- Her – Takes a little long to get going
- Tea Stain – repeated chords on an organ. Not too offensive except for the distortion in the left channel, so tempted to make it broken because of that.
- Drunk Tank – Nebraska-era Springsteen. Or the less-synthy, more-strummy parts of Tunnel Of Love.
- Paco De Renaldo’s Dream – Lots of spoken-wordness
- The Not Knowing – late-Waters-era Pink Floyd