>Mr Sparkle!

>As stated in my Pavement review, I suffer from considerable guilt over bands I should really be familiar with yet no little about. Sparklehorse are one of those bands. The first experience I had was of their collaboration with Danger Mouse and David Lynch (Dark Night of the Soul) which is one of my favourite albums of the last year. It seemed natural therefore to dip into the history of this band; sadly there will be no future as Mark Linkous tragically took his own life earlier this year.

Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot – by Sparklehorse

The album I chose as my introduction to Sparklehorse was there first from 1995. It is revered in American Indie circles and it was with lofty expectations that I approached listening. It was a distressing experience for me to discover the cover as I have a deep fear of clowns as a result of my caring if misguided father’s decision to choose It as a family film when I was about eight. He went on to repeat the trick less than a decade later as we all sat down to American Psycho. My theory is he likes watching films on his own. Anyway I digress, the origin of Viva is an unusual one as it was recorded primarily by the band Cracker for whom Linkous was a guitar tech and occasional collaborator. From unorthodox beginnings has emerged a terrific album. I was anticipating a darker tone to the album as I didn’t realise Linkous’ overdose came after the release of Viva. The real strengths of this album are the way simple, quite old fashioned songs are delivered in a variety of styles; from stripped down, Wilcoesque backing on the incredibly charming love song Saturday to the rambling experimental interlude Little Bastard Choo Choo which wouldn’t be out of place on the White Album. As a great lover of The Strokes I admire a band who refuse to make room for self-indulgence and the way in which songs are brought to a swift conclusion adds to the rhythm of the album. Personally the highlight of the album comes on the seventh track ‘Most Beautiful Widow in Town.’ The acoustic backing is minimal so as not to detract from the magnificent imagery of the tale of unrequited love which really made me sit up and take notice of why Linkous is so highly rated.

many years later
the glassy month of December
I stood with my hands in my pockets
trying to avoid
a shiny wedding portrait
hanging on that old woman’s wall
‘cos I knew you’d be wearing a smile
that’d be too painful to look upon

Maybe it is the theme that made me make the connection but 29 by Ryan Adams came to mind when listening. It would be wrong to identify Linkous as possessing a show-stopping or even unique voice but the delivery is tender and seems to invite the listener into his very private world meaning Linkous is a great communicator of emotion and as a result this is a great album. I look forward to discovering the rest of their back catalogue and it is a great thrill to embrace an artist who has influenced so many of those I adore. Listening to Viva is like listening to the roots of Willy Mason, Ryan Adams, Ben Gibbard and Ben Kweller and on that basis alone it could be destined to become one of my favourite albums.

8 1/2 out of 10

>Nothing to do with George W or sodding vampires

>Confession time: I have in the past pretended to know about Pavement long before I actually listened to them. I blame Damon Albarn – when Blur’s excellent self-titled album came out the standard critic response was ‘rips off/inspired by’ Pavement (depending on the view). For an albeit brief period lo-fi was king as even the biggest band in the world at the time (fuck off Bono) REM experimented with the genre. So blink and you’ll miss it, Stephen Maulkmus was an acclaimed rock star and his final album as Pavement was ‘Terror Twilight.’ So named after the most dangerous period for traffic, which is nice.
The album has been described as having something of a Radiohead feel thanks to Nigel Godrich’s production and the harmonica hollywood cameos of Johnny Greenwood. Make no loose aspersions though – this is unmistakeably Pavement. The bold move to kick off with Spit on a Stranger may have been record company influenced being the most instantly commercial effort on show but it certainly proves a worthy welcomes to Maulkmus’ message. If you aren’t familiar with Pavement’s previous albums then I highly recommend you seek them out. Those who have will understand what I mean when I say everything sounds fuller and more precise on this album than before. Pavement are in a good place and the confidence shows in the willingness to show off musicianship and vocal abilities whilst erring on the right side of self-indulgence. The famed fuzzy-sonic sound and experimental approach to melody still remains – as brilliantly evident on You Are A Light. Not all of the album is happiness and rainbows as the rage comes to the fore in brilliant yet repugnant ode to the damage women can do ‘Cream of Gold’:

So much for destiny,
A pin prick on my knee,
The frost you paint
across our dead affair.
I sensed the toxic aura
from the second we touched,
You were stitched up venom
and I was the cursed from the Vedic.

The repetition of beige throughout the lyrics creates the image of a departing lover having taken all the singer’s passion. All in all this makes for a striking contrast to the song that follows; Major Leagues is the lilting lament of a man dealing with lost youth and the reality of growing up. This may sound depressing subject matter yet the combination of honey vocals and beautifully intwined guitar makes for an uplifting experience. However this certainly falls short of being the perfect album; Maulkmus’ style is on such a knife edge that any drop in form stands out a mile and Ann Don’t You Cry certainly falls short alongside many of the other tracks. It just goes to show that even bands of this standard are susceptible to the odd filler track. Similarly (and this might well lead to some abuse) Billie just doesn’t work for me. One tangent too many is followed which undoubtedly detracts from the overall impact of the song. There is a swift return to form though as Speak. See. Remember. succeeds precisely where Billie fails showing the fine margins that this style of music operates under. I’m surely not the first to draw comparisons between Maulkmus and Beck and nowhere is it more apt than on this track which wouldn’t be out of place on Modern Guilt. I think Godrich deserves credit here as like on the rest of the album he resists the temptation to meddle and keeps the production refreshing clean which as I said earlier provides an opportunity to appreciate the musicianship in a way earlier albums simply didn’t offer. The Hexx is a fine example of this – it is tragic that this was the final album Pavement made as it really documents a band in the form of their life. Maybe Maulkmus knew this as he finishes with the absolutely triumphant Carrot Rope. It quite simply is the most brilliant song ever to involve a wicket keeper!

Pavement fully deserve the description as the Velvet Underground for the 90s. This is a fine album with minimal filler and will stand the test of time as the legacy of a quite brilliant band.


Spit On a Stranger live
Cream of Gold live
Buy from Amazon

Published in: on 28/07/2010 at 8:06 pm  Leave a Comment