All The Pretty Horses…

Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain
August 7, 2006, 2:41 pm
Filed under: Listening

I was more than a little excited when I heard that – after a five year gap – the new Sparklehorse album was almost with us. I managed to download a copy the same day the September release date was confirmed, and my initial reaction was that it was as good – or better – than I could have hoped for. Unfortunately, I think I was letting my excitement cloud my judgement, and it’s actually something of a disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, a poor Sparklehorse album is still better than most acts at their very best, but for a band (kinda) who made my favourite album of all time – Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot – it’s a little bit ordinary. Sad to say, there’s been a gradual decline since that fantastic debut – Good Morning Spider was a brilliant record but, perhaps inevitably, lacked the freshness, the ‘shock of the new’ of Viva… And It’s A Wonderful Life was more of the same, only less so.

Linkous has been away for half a decade, having a dreadful time by the sound of it, but the signs were good for a release that saw him back on form – Dangermouse and Dave Fridmann producing, Tom Waits and the Flaming Lips playing.

But it’s just too familiar, lacking in new ideas. I’m not expecting Linkous to reinvent the wheel with every album – he has a very distinct style and sound, and that’s why I love his work so much – but this is totally Sparklehorse-by-numbers. Maybe it will grow on me, but I fear not. I didn’t even rush out and get tickets for the newly-announced London shows – again, having been one of the most incredible live acts I’ve ever seen the first 3-4 times I saw them, Sparklehorse soon  became static and uninvolving and a  bit drab.

By way of comparison, I’ve just found the post I wrote elsewhere about why Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot was and probably still is my favourite record:

I’d had the album for a while – when I was a journo, things had a habit of ending up on a shelf while I got around to them – and while I knew it was good, it hadn’t really taken up residence in my brain in any significant way… and then, in the winter of 1997, all my shit hit the fan at once (rather like now, in fact)… Walked out on a home and a girlfriend and promptly lost my job as well… and just lost myself in a blizzard of base speed and coke and pills and bad techno..But then.. But then.. at 4am. Or 8am. Or whenever I crawled home, I started listening to the Sparklehorse album. Over and over and over…and realised I had never heard anything like it… Recorded by a jaded, disillusioned recovering smackhead, in a shed recording studio, it seemed at times to flirt with the tag (whatever that is!) but was really something other.. scarily slow, stilted ballads where the singer/mainman Mark Linkous sounds like he’s about to nod out.. caustic, blaring guitar numbers that could sound like 1980s Tom Waits and 1970s Neil Young, often at the same time.. the most intriguing and elliptical lyrics, which rarely made any logical sense but had an amazing sense of mood and at times had a kind of Bunuel/Dali quality (“you play great keyboards of horses’ teeth)…

The mood, overall, being one of desperate sadness. Songs like ‘You Are The Most Beautiful Widow In Town’, ‘Sad And Beautiful World’, ‘Someday I Will Treat You Good’..

Saturday is a fine example.. over a desperately sweetly melancholic backing, Linkous claims that

“you are a car
you are a hospital
I’d walk to hell and back
to see your smile
on Saturday”

But in the end, as great as all this is, it’s the production that gets you. I’ve never been someone hung up on production – Steely Dan make me puke my ring and I’ve never been one to obsess about snare sounds – but this is different. The care, the love, the attention to detail is just breathtaking.. every spare moment has little squiggles of noise, little distortions and jerks that surprise you even on repeated listenings. There are brief track segues of toy trains and men discussing guns and barely heard answerphone messages.. ghosts in the machine and things slipping in through the ether..And on those horrible winter mornings where I wondered what the fuck I was going to do to get off my friend’s sofa and back into the world, this album took over my brain and became like part of my DNA, part of how I looked at things…

A few Sparklehorse live shows added to the wonder and the awe. Then two more albums – Good Morning Spider and It’s A Wonderful Life which were great, but not as great.. I hear he’s working with Fennesz now, which would be interesting.

But that album, it will never let me down.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

not cool.

Comment by ::.i!i!.::

What? That I don’t like the album or that the album isn’t very good?

Comment by dubversion

personally, I thought It’s A Wonderful Life was Sparklehorse’s best so far. I’m looking forward to hearing this one. Thanks for your thoughts.

Comment by gold boy

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