Review Summary: May all your days be gold my child.
With It's a Wonderful Life
, we see a side of Mark Linkous that is more focused than previously presented on Good Morning Spider
. The album works much more cohesively, and is best enjoyed in one sitting accompanied by little more than the taste of scotch in a dimly lit room. Yes, the album sees the ever-somber Linkous use sardonic wordplay to entice the listener, merely hinting at the singer's underlying depression. This is evident right from the get-go, with the album opener and title track. Then again, I approached this track with the knowledge that Linkous had written it specifically as a lovely middle finger to critics who undervalued his usual dark lyrical themes, so perhaps I saw the humour in the singer's apparent wonderful life as he described it.
The album is thematically grim, while still lighthearted and naive. A lackluster research attempt on my part suggests that the album was written at a point in Mark's life when he had all but completely cast aside drugs, and a glimmer of optimism shines through in the more playful parts of IAWL. This can contribute to the overall emotional impact of the album, given the fact that Linkous shot himself ~9 years after the album was released.
Despite the smooth soft-spoken vocal melodies and well-suited instrumentation, the album feels restrained. Regardless, I found myself barely hanging on during "Apple Bed", particularly here:
The witches will return to their sticky tree knots
I will feel the sun
I will feel the sun
I will feel the sun coming down
The challenge with analyzing Sparklehorse lyrically, is much of what Mark Linkous writes straddles the line between metaphorical and nonsensical. Nonetheless, the tone he creates conveys a saddening underlying message, albeit frustratingly. As a listener, I felt myself patiently waiting for Linkous to reach an emotional peak at some point, but he trudges on calmly and unwavering.
Though, perhaps this is what makes IAWL work so cohesively, considering the multitude of guest musicians and orchestral backdrops, with pianos, woodwinds, and the like. This marks an interesting transition from Sparklehorse's previous albums. A decent comparison would be of Say Anything's ...Is a Real Boy
, followed by In Defense of the Genre
. The former album showcased Max Bemis at what many would consider his creative peak, where he had utmost control on nearly every aspect of the album's production amidst a drug-fueled lifestyle, whereas the latter album sees Bemis more focused and collaborative.
The group effort certainly benefits the overall direction. While there is less unrestrained experimentation fans of Good Morning Spider
might have hoped for, the album simply works
, and every track is a worthwhile listen, though you might find Tom Waits' contribution on "Dog Door" a tad underwhelming. The instrumentation throughout the album is near-flawless, and is interesting enough to highlight Sparklehorse's creative spark while not overwhelming the earnest lyricism.
"and is best enjoyed in one sitting accompanied by little more than the taste of scotch..."
Oh, and Glenfiddich Single Malt should do the trick.