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Archive for August, 2012

This is a piece I wrote for a zine last year, but I always wanted to give people a chance to read it as well. I think it hold up okay. I received next to no reaction to first time around, so let’s see what happens this time. For some reason I can’t upload a photo of the album cover at the moment – the blog doesn’t seem to be co-operating with me today, but at least the text is here. Its not too hard an image to find……..

Grandaddy’s “The Sophtware Slump” was given a deluxe reissue treatment a matter of weeks ago, but I didn’t feel like buying it right away. Despite my love for this ungainly but loveable band from Modesto California, and this album in particular, the sight of an album I dearly cherish being reappraised by all music media outlets (and on sale at a vastly inflated price) brought on feelings of deep melancholy – a kind of subconscious pain that only the music of this band could summon up.

Grandaddies were loved by almost everyone I knew in the late 1990s; they were the common ground upon which everyone in my circle of friends could stand. Their breakout single “Summer Here Kids” was one of the last songs I ever remember hearing on the radio and falling for immediately. Their fuzzy, anthemic output and hermetic surroundings were a real departure, and allowed my friends and I insulate ourselves from the worst of the late 90s Britpop nightmare. The soothing nature of Jason Lytle’s vocals – 50% Jeff Lynne, 40% Black Frank, 10% other – belied the turmoil of his lyrics, unfurling over four-square rock ‘n’ roll foundations. The easeful crunch of the guitars on “Under the Western Freeway” were allied to blissful gilded electronics, and reached their apogee on their second classic album.

Reviewers have sought to place the band in a wider context, with Q Magazine attempting to place “The Sophtware Slump” as part of a ‘Great American Trilogy’ alongside Mercury Rev’s “Deserter Songs” and The Flaming Lips’ “The Soft Bulletin”. ‘Record Collector’ pegged them as “The American Radiohead”. But this is merely scene-setting. Grandaddy always stood apart from all of these groups for me: their work was much less widescreen, more interior. Even when tackling the rise of technology, the overarching theme of “Sophtware”, Grandaddy places basic human feeling at the heart of every song. The isolated “2000 Man” of the epic “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” is clearly a distant relation to Bowie’s Major Tom, adrift in a sea of dislocation, as are the “Miner at the Dial-A-View”, peering down at his loved ones, and the desperate robot drowning his sorrows on the heartbreaking “Jed the Humanoid”.

Jason Lytle is one of modern music’s great balladeers. His poignant laments for his flawed characters and thinly-veiled autobiographical recollections of past misdemeanours continually distinguish the songwriting, their ongoing paeans to pain and regret are elevated into a state of beauty by the passage of time, and by their absorption into other people’s lives. Grandaddy’s music has the power of nostalgia, literally the pain for return, at its very core.

The singles that were released from the album caused singular kind of problem for me as a Grandaddy fan. As one of the most prolific bands of the time, their high quality b-sides made their singles essential purchases. In the late 90s, the onset of CD single formatting meant spending the best part of a tenner for these extras – not to mention the 7” version for that one last uncollected track! But every single purchase was worth it, as the tracks now lovingly assembled on the second disc of the deluxe reissue, constitute another album or more of extraordinary material. The treasures amid the collection are among the best songs the band ever recorded – the autotuned gleam of “My Dying Brains”, their wry homily to the joys of marriage “Wives of Farmers”, the mournful piano-led strains of “L.F.O.”, and three versions of the same song bundled into one gorgeous package, “She Deleter”.

Elsewhere Lytle the balladeer emerges with glowingly beautiful fragments like the gossamer “What Can’t Be Erased” and the shambolic shuffle “Moe Bandy Mountaineers”. But the real gem is the remarkable “Rode My Bike to my Step Sister’s Wedding”, an aching solo recording, no more than a demo, which delivers everything that is great about the band in such a delicate piece it’s barely holding itself together as you listen to it.

I am glad that Grandaddy are once again receiving some well deserved attention, and are reviving people’s age old affection for their music once again, even if it stirs up how hard it was to lose them in the middle of the last decade in the process. I will never forget how I felt having bought their final album “Just Like The Fambly Cat” from Track Records in York (now long since closed), knowing that I was about to listen to their very last work as a band. It was an ominous feeling that was not easily dissipated, although the wondrous atmosphere of “Fambly Cat” certainly worked its magic in the long term.

Now Jason is a solo artist with a brilliant album “Yours Truly, The Commuter” under his belt, and alongside ex-Grandaddy guitarist Jim Fairchild is a member of the excellent group Admiral Radley to boot. But one piece of the puzzle was missing for me. In the late 90s, a seemingly distant pre-internet age, the only way to communicate with bands was to write to the addresses printed on their LP sleeves, I stored up these addresses and would write to the various bands I liked, and anxiously await their replies. I’d sent one to Grandaddy asking them some questions I had about their “Broken Down Comforter Collection” compilation. One day in 1999 I received a postcard from Jason Lytle, and it remains one of my most treasured possessions. The album he was working on was “The Sophtware Slump”. His postcard is just one among the reasons I love it so much. It read:

“Kevin,

“Tomorrow” is about a poor dirt farmer who inherits a child, raises the child, and then loses him. It has Robert Duvall in it. And was filmed somewhere around the time of “The Godfather”. Apparently Robert Duvall liked the script so much he did it for almost nothing. It’s a very very slow film minimalistic film. The last song is “You drove your car into a moving train”. “Don’t Sock The Tryer” will lie dormant as will many other older recordings for various, stupid reasons. I’m well into the recording of the next album. I’m frighteningly excited at what it’s becoming.

Thanks for listening,

Jason”

 

 

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