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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 85 - 09/10/03

Gene Clark
No Other
Asylum / Rhino (re-issue)

All I can say is, At last.

I first heard about No Other by Gene Clark - original Byrd, kicked out through band politics, washed up through booze and coke - in the mid 1990s. Written about as part of a music press "under-rated records" special, it later featured in a poll of writers/industry-types trying to formulate an alternative great rock music canon, excluding the usual winners of these lists. Not bad for a record that until now, had never been reissued on CD in the UK, and had been a giant commercial flop on its original release.

I eventually heard the thing itself around 5 years ago, when a kindly record-store owner in Bristol taped his own vinyl copy for me. Not often you can say that. Home-taping has kept this album alive for nearly 30 years - ever since I acquired a CD version in Japan I've been rabidly ensuring all my music-loving friends get to hear it, convinced they'd be glad they had before it took its rightful place in that "classic" pantheon, up there with Pet Sounds and Forever Changes.

So, as I said, At last.

You may have heard great claims made on behalf of Gram Parsons, who introduced country music to the Byrds and the Stones, died still ridiculously young and good-looking, and could sing like an angel. Gram's efforts to create the Cosmic American Music, on solo records like GP and Grievous Angel, often resulted in admittedly sublime music, but fell short of his grandiose claims to have synthesised the indigenous styles of country, soul, blues and jazz. What Gram dreamed of reaching, Gene Clark achieved with No Other. Its scope and breadth is apparent not only its execution of this Cosmic music, but also in the creation songs of the scale and density needed to not leave Clark dwarfed by his grand ambitions. That Clark died washed up and bloated in the early 90s, in the least glamorous way possible, only renders the gulf between their relative acclaim yet more poignant.

It starts with "Life's Greatest Fool", a sweet, propulsive, country-rock groove, that by its end has transcended its potentially prosaic lyrics. Aided by a rousing gospel backing, it's the first of many definitive "happy-to-be-sad, sad-to-be-happy" moments. Gene Clark can do this. Words that read terribly on paper seem to fuel the emotion and very life of the song, ending up sounding 4am profound. It's not surprising that the enormous budget - the production surrounds Clark in sumptuous array of orchestration - was matched by a copious cocaine intake. The record is delicately balanced between a blizzard nightmare and a white powder dream: lyrics simultaneously eulogise and condemn, while the music is at once warm and beauteous as well as overwrought and overblown. It is the perfect comedown album, inviting you to stay afloat one the high has disappeared.

As a result, it never sounds less than majestic. The melodies of "Strength Of Strings", "From A Silver Phial" and "Lady Of The North" are heaven-sent, and nestled on a luxurious bed of piano and assorted synthesizers, strings, gospel harmonies and slide guitar. These are arrangements that seem to last for days; that invite you to get lost in them. Find your way out of the other side, only for something like the title track - a flinty psychedelic cowbell-funk - or "Silver Raven" - pure 70s drugginess, Clark sounding barely awake - to pick you up again, off to somewhere new. The great moments, to be truthful, are too many to go through. It sounds cheesy, and yet peculiarly fitting, to describe No Other as a journey - it's almost too big to describe.

In the midst of all this towering greatness, comes an even greater centrepiece. "Some Misunderstanding" is very long, very slow, and encapsulates everything talked about above. "We all need a fix, at a time like this/ Don't it make you feel good to be alive". Somehow, recognised dependence has been made liberating, and all to a textbook 70s country-rock ballad that sets the template for everything The Verve did on Urban Hymns, only bigger.

And that's the watchword for No Other - bigger. It epitomised the pre-punk years of pomposity: over-bearing orchestration, pseudo-profound lyrics and a 60s pop star thinking it acceptable to wear eyeliner and a flared jumpsuit on the back sleeve. And yet, itâ?Ts absolutely irresistible. The songs are so huge they almost demand the layer upon layer of sound poured onto them (hear the original demos on the reissue, by the way), and Gene Clark's voice has a particular everyman quality that inspires indulgence.

You need this album. At the very least, you could buy it now and watch smugly as it starts to top those "Best Of All Time" lists very soon indeed.

Copyright © 2003 James Caig e-mail address

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