So here we are in 2013 the era of the digital album, no longer constrained by the 40 minutes of 12″ Vinyl or the 74 minutes of a standard compact disc artists are free to put as much music out as they like. But should they?
Are we becoming overwhelmed? And what of those who are still buying physical releases? 2013 is rapidly becoming the year not of the modern mp3 based free for all but the carefully considered double album! Efforts from Cass McCombs, Arcade Fire & Biffy Clyro have all spanned two discs of whatever format you go for, but are they necessary? Can anyone really fully pay attention for over an hours worth of music?
Quality control is certainly an important factor in any album release, but the likes of The White Album, Blonde on Blond or London Calling can’t really be said to have suffered from their slightly bloated lengths. If the quality is kept high then theoretically there’s nothing better, who doesn’t just want more music from artists they love? Sadly the quality rarely stays high.
Rate Your Music did a list of the best double albums of all time and what was highly interesting was how many of them date back to a time when the artists were still limited by the amount one could fit on a vinyl record, few great double albums have come out in recent years (off the top of my head only Eels’ “Blinking Lights and Revelations” and Godspeed You Black Emperors “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven” have produced great modern double albums)
So why are people going back to it? Ego? The feeling they can pull it off where others couldn’t? Or as a throwback to what some people still think of as the glory days of the album in the 60s and 70s?
Either way yet another band trying it in 2013 are The Wave Pictures, so go Wave Pictures, show me that the double album is worth my love and affection, restore my faith!
WAVE PICTURES – CITY FORGIVENESS
I wont attempt to guess what number album of their career this is from The Wave Pictures. I read a preview of City Forgiveness which calls it studio album number 5 while the discography on their website has it as album number 16. Either way one thing you need to know before you become a card carrying member of The Wave Pictures Fan Club is that they’re incredibly prolific (16 albums doesn’t even include the solo efforts of leading man David Tattersall) In fact it’s actually (by their standards) been an awful long time since 2012’s “Long Black Cars”, so what took them so long? Well a double album record concocted from notes written on the road on tour in the states is about as ambitious as a band gets, especially when you’re planning on recording it only 3 days! This record put simply shouldn’t work! The fact they’ve produced a coherent, interesting and largely professional sounding records is surely one of 2013’s greatest triumphs?
So what of this writing process? During a 6 week tour of the states with good friends (and featured guests on this record) Allo Darlin’, David took to scribbling notes as he puts it “whatever popped into my head” was noted down, when he got back home he had pages and pages of crumpled notes from which he started to put together songs. Classic road songs to some extent, lots of references to travel, places you’ve been, and wanting to come home to someone. Lyrically a companion piece to Bill Callahan’s latest effor “Dream River”, perhaps but in lyrical style you’re dealing with two completely different beasts. While some songwriters lay it all out on the line and let you know their exact thoughts Tattersall is a rather different beast from “I tell you because it’s true children jump off buildings” from the storming The Woods to “I looked a fox in the face once in the shadows of a burger stand” from A Crack in The Planes we find David is his normal brilliantly bizarre metaphor spouting self. His lyrics read like poems, part quintessentially British, part free flowing Beat Poet, there’s not many people producing this sort of fascinating lyrical content that leaves so much open to the listeners interpretation.
And what of the music? Well nobody is doing anything like this either. Tattersall is also a uniquely brilliant guitarist. The guitar solo is a deeply unfashionable thing but in the hands of someone so studied in the blues as we see here it can be surprisingly devastating. It’s hard to think of a comparison but Jack White without the scuzz and histrionics perhaps, certainly they both take huge influence from the greats, David references the likes of John Fahey & Ry Cooder when pushed for the influence of his solo album “Little Martha” and alongside this stunning playing this is a record that’s largely quite simple in approach. David’s guitar picking flys around left, right and centre while the superb rhythm section hold the whole thing together and give a surprisingly energetic and not over-blown sound to what could easily get out of hand.
For me one of the key factors on a double is an ability to define each discs differences from the other, a trick The Wave Pictures have largely pulled off. Whilst both records are clearly The Wave Pictures there’s a subtle flow from the more upbeat and poppy Disc 1 to the more dark and by their own standards experimental Disc 2.
Disc 1 can largely be broken down into types of song. The Blues Stormer (Exhibit A) and the Afrobeat Skiffler (Exhibit B). Opening track “All My Friends” and the superb “Chesnut” are the former, while “Before This Day” and “Whisky Bay” the latter. It’s very much classic Wave Pictures and could in fact verge on not offering the listener anything new at all. That said any song on here could almost be a single (though I must admit to feeling like “The Yellow Roses” is a disappointment, a rare attempt at a weepy one that at over 6 minutes outstays it’s welcome).
Disc 1 is full of standouts from the Black Keysish “Chesnut” with the wonderful line “I said I liked your smile, no wait, that’s not right, it’s that you looked like you walked out of the movies” to the absolutely joyful “Missoula” and “Whisky Bay” where David promises “honey, the good times are not over yet” it’s a really quite joyful listen, and that’s before I’ve even mentioned “The Woods’! A stunning track that starts off all Hefner Indie-Pop, before David has a slightly out-dated pop about the blandness of British Food & British Beer (Where’ve you been David we’re a culinary titan and brew with the best of them!) the whole track then roars into life, the guitar playing loses a showy edge and comes across bristling with energy as the sound of a band hitting it’s straps and a guitarist in his pomp pour out of the speakers, yes it’s The Wave Pictures being The Wave Pictures but it’s the best they’ll ever sound.
And so to Disc 2, when a traditional double album review goes into slating it for being overlong and pompous right? Well not really. Disc 2 has a very different feel. It all flows from opening track “Tropic” where we find a bile fuelled David spewing forth “there is a little bit of hell marked out for you” and noting “you don’t get over something like this, you just keep moving, or else you don’t move and you just weep” after hearing the hope and joy of the first disc it’s really quite sad.
The Inattentive Reader see’s him lamenting a moment he thought would be a thing of wonder “I wanted to make you young again, ah, but your youth was not mine for the making” there’s a more accessible human side to many of the lyrics on this disc, it seems the sadness brings out the truth in Mr Tattersall.
As well as a new honesty to the lyrics, there’s a subtle amount of experimentation to the music. “Shell” ends with a blast of a wind instrument that gives the whole song a middle-eastern feel, while “Narrow Lane” is a classic anti-folk song only with Saxophone and guitar solos. If there’s one song that hints at bright future and a possible change of sound it’s the piano led “Atlanta” where Jonny Helm takes over on lead vocal duties. There’s even vocal harmonies, even if oddly David Tattersall isn’t credited with any involvement except writing the song! If they’re worried about doing something different next this would be the place to look, it’s fresh and exciting.
There’s still plenty to discover on the last side of the last disc. New Skin is the best ballad anywhere on the record with the standout lyric “I am a whippet now, I am alarmingly thin” it’s rather heartwrenching. Closing track “Like Smoke” is as sad as it is beautiful as we find David questioning what happens next following the death of his grandfather.
Side D also features the albums best song “Golden Syrup”. It starts all maudlin lightly strummed guitars before the jauntiest of acoustic guitars kicks in. It sounds like a ho-down, in fact you can imagine everyone dancing while the singer weeps quietly to himself. It’s full of killer lines from “I can’t promise you a good time, I can’t promise you a great time, but I doubt you’ll come to any harm” to “I paid my way and somehow I still am able to say I have not murdered anyone yet”. It’s the most American sounding track on an album that is after all about America, it’s got a hint of Johnny Cash in the tale of crimes and being on the run, frankly it’s brilliant. Indeed it raises the question why there’s not more of an American feel to the rest of the record, ultimately Tattersall was a tourist only briefly and this album is that, it’s a trip-advisor review not a lonely planet guide many years in the making. It’s a reaction to the places he visited not the tale of man who immersed himself entirely in their culture and their ways. It’s none the worse for that either.
So did The Wave Pictures pull off the great double album? Well they gave it a damn good go, like any double album there’s moments that could have been cut (when the second guitar solo interlude of “The Ropes” kicks in you wouldn’t be missing much if you skipped the rest of the track”) and a few songs outstay their welcome. Ultimately though there’s enough great moments to make up for it, too many great moments for a single disc? I’d say so, and for a band who set themselves a near impossible task, they did rather well didn’t they?