US - Virginia - Full Moon 59 - 08/04/01
It's A Wonderful Life
On 1998's Good Morning Spider, Sparklehorse (aka Mark Linkous) released a well-publicized
response to a near-fatal drug overdose. The only problem was that while the record's supposed
intent may have been well-publicized, the music was not so simple. Over the course of 17
harrowingly different tracks, ranging from edgily distorted rock (Pig and Cruel Sun)
to intensely beautiful dreamscapes (Painbirds and Sunshine), Linkous ruminated on
death, recovery, pain and love with the occasional full-fledged pop song thrown in, almost as
if to prove he could do those, too (Sick of Goodbyes and Maria's Little Elbows).
Once the record had sunk in, listeners found it to be clearly brilliant while at the same time
baffling, with vague but evocative lyrics backed up by an incredible range of terrific melodies.
Now, Linkous is back with It's A Wonderful Life. This album, with high-profiled guests like P.J. Harvey
and Tom Waits, ranges less than Good Morning Spider, while at the same time moving in new
directions with both music and lyrics. This time around, the schizophrenia of his last effort
is left behind, and listeners find a comforting, quiet ode to a comfortable, quiet life left
behind. While Spider seemed to be going in every direction at once, here Linkous is
content to tone down the music and let the lyrics speak for themselves. On Piano Fire,
one of the three harder-rocking songs on the relatively quiet album, he and Harvey sing the
chorus "I can't seem to see with solid marble eyes/I
can't seem to breathe with a rusted metal heart" with terrific intensity. More often,
vocals and music come together as near-whispers, quiet, unimposing and beautiful. The music
rises and falls to its own rhythm, one found in life and a celebration of it, based in quiet
gothic appreciation of the Southern heritage Linkous basks in on his rural farm/studio in
The great thing about It's a Wonderful Life is that the lyrics, hauntingly beautiful,
are given their day in the sun. Linkous, in constructing an album with fewer juicy hooks than
its predecessor, seems content to let the listener travel with the lyrics, until they have
their own personal meaning. It's A Wonderful Life is a wonderful album, representing a remarkable
progression from an already distinct sound.
See for yourself at NME, which has set up a 'Listening Corner' in their Sparklehorse section that plays the entirety of the album.
Copyright © 2001 Richard Siegler