Love it or hate it, Red House Painter's 5th album stuck out as a sore thumb amongst their last efforts. Songs for a Blue Guitar holds the familiar Mark Kozelek droning vocals, but the music takes a different turn, and I like to believe, in a good direction.
I hate to say his music was getting a little less depressing, since I don't think that's the right phrase to describe the sound on this album. I think I'll say that it's a different kind of sad. You can hear hints of his future works, mainly his works with Sun Kil Moon, spread throughout these beautiful arrangements of notes and chords (listen to the instrumental parts of "Revelation Big Sur" and you might understand a little better). I'm no expert on Mark Kozelek and his legacy, but from what I've heard, he's quickly become one of my favorite songwriters of all time. His music is honest, pure, and from the deepest depths of his being. Just close your eyes and really listen to him and listen to his lyrics and really think about what they mean. This is music at its purest.
This may not be the best intro ever written but it's hard to write an intro that will do this cd justice. So, without further ado, I want to jump into this masterful creation.
Red House Painters is:
Mark Kozelek: Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Anthony Koutsos: Drums
Gorden Mack: Guitar
Jerry Vessel: Bass Guitar
1. Have You Forgotten
Have You Forgotten was the song that made me buy this album. I only heard a 30 second clip and I couldn't stop listening. The words, "and shut out what they say 'cause your friends are ***ed up anyway" ringed out in my head and I knew that he meant what he was singing. The lyrics on this record are outstanding and this song is no exception. Being 6:13 of basically the same riff over and over, you'd think that the song would drag on a little, but it doesn't, and, in fact, I wish this song was a little longer. This song comes close to being a five in my book, but I felt that the "chorus" of the song might have been a little weak from the way the chords were arranged. I felt it should have kept a more mellow dark tone instead of changing to higher notes while he sings, "have you forgotten how to love yourself". A great start to the album.
2. Song for a Blue Guitar
Song for a Blue Guitar opens with an acoustic guitar gently strumming a very bluesy riff, hence the title. An ethereal sliding guitar soothes into the background creating a very beautiful feel to the song. As soon as it cuts out Mark starts singing. The point of his lyrics seems kind of obvious after a few glances. This song is about being left alone. His voice only heightens this fact. Then, in what I think is one of the songs downfalls, a female singer comes in to sing along with Mark. I can't find who she is, but I don't think her voice fits very well with the feel of the song nor with the way Mark is singing it. An otherwise beautiful song, I think this is one of my least favorites on the album.
3. Make Like Paper
What's this I hear, is that a shredding guitar riff? Yes, it is. And a damn good one too. Very bluesy, but this riff makes me want to bob my head along, though whether it's to the catchy rhythm or to the ripping guitar is a mystery to me. This song carries right along, nothing particularly special about the drum work or the bass work, they just back up Mark well. The "solo" in this isn't my favorite to listen to by any means. It kind of feels like they just hit the record button and had him play whatever notes he wanted to, though at times I think it helps the solo out by giving it more meaning. Either way, it does start to drag on a little, considering it's 12:03 long. In fact, his record label wanted Mark to edit the lengthy guitar "solo", but Mark refused to. A decent song.
4. Priest Alley Song
Ah yes, finally we're starting to get into what makes this album so great. A complex but not overdone picking pattern starts this song out and sets a definite feel. This is what this album is about. I like the way he describes all the different things in this song. They're the things that everyone sees when they're driving down the street but are often overlooked. It focuses on the little intricacies of life. At 2:13, the drums, bass, and a lead guitar jump into the mix and really breathe a lot of life into the song. Perfect timing, otherwise the song might have started to drag on a little. The song takes a turn into a surprising direction, adding in a very depressing violin part, but then jumping back into the original feel of the song. Another one of my favorites on the album.
How do I begin to talk about this epic song. Wow. The most beautiful fingerpicking pattern I have ever heard by anyone ever. This song alone is reason enough to buy this album. Hell it's reason enough to buy two copies of this album and share the wealth with someone else. The lyrics of this song are so damn beautiful. He describes emotions so well and paints such a beautiful picture in my mind. Just when I think this song can't get better, it does. At 3:20 when the lyrics end, the song is only halfway finished. Beautiful and I mean absolutely gorgeous background guitars float in and make this song reach unthinkable heights. It feels like you're floating in space with only you and this music and your thoughts. I can't even describe how this song makes me feel. Just go listen to it. Please.
6. I Feel the Rain Fall
Wait, what happened? How did we go from a song like Trailways to this? Okay, it's not THAT bad, but, still. It just looks worse being a follow up to such a grand song. Definitely the happiest song I've heard from Mark Kozelek, however, I think I like the sad Kozelek better. You can tell Kozelek wanted to back up this albums title by throwing this song in, but, it really just doesn't mesh with the whole feel of the rest of the album. I don't feel like describing this song farther, the worst song on the album.
7. Long Distance Runaround
A decent song, though I'm not a huge fan of the distorted effect on Mark's voice. Still better than the previous song though. Some catchy riffs here and there, and I like the piano in the background of this song. This song really picks up at 2:36 and almost sounds like a new song has begun with a very catchy riff and nice drum work creating a great ending to the song.
8. All Mixed Up
The first song I heard from Red House Painters. WOW, what a gorgeous song. A cover of the Cars song of the same name, All Mixed Up challenges as the most beautiful and tranquil song of the whole album. The song starts with a soft drum intro and then calmly flows into one of the most beautiful musical arrangements I've ever heard. I absolutely love the way Mark sings this song. His voice REALLY shines on this song and really shows us the clean, pure tone that Mark can achieve when he wants to. This is also the only song on the album where the piano comes out to the forefront of the music, and even includes a short piano "solo" if you will. It's hard to talk about the lyrics and the meaning behind them, after all, Mark didn't write them, and I don't listen to much of The Cars. This song does, however, make me feel like it's all going to be okay, even though life can get really screwed up sometimes. Sometimes we need to just sit back and admit that it's all mixed up. Beautiful.
9. Revelation Big Sur
This song is, in my opinion, the diamond in the rough of this album. It seems kind of lost and by itself, but it's one of the best songs of the album. I've read that this song is about how a girl means absolutely everything to him, so much that she becomes almost an idol to him, and he can't stop thinking about her. He wants to hate her for what she did and for how much he's raising her on a pedestal, but his love won't allow him to do so. This song is just mark and his guitar, and the duo is unbeatable. The few seconds of pure instrumental moments beacon of the Sun Kil Moon sound of the future and it's gorgeous.
10. Silly Love Songs
Silly Love Songs is the second cover of the album. I've never heard the original song by Paul McCartney, but I HAVE heard that this is the better version. This is a very chill song and makes you want to lay back, turn the lights off, and think about life. The guitar work in this song is wonderful. The long guitar solo in this song trumps the solo on Make Like Paper big time. At 11:11 this is the second longest song on the album, but doesn't feel like it drags on like Make Like Paper does. This song does take some patience, however, to keep you from skipping back to Revelation Big Sur or going forward to the final track of the album. This song requires a certain mood to really appreciate it to its fullest, but when you do really sit back and listen, this song stands out as one of the albums best. I know I say that almost every song is one of the albums best, but that's also why this album is getting a 5. Great song.
11. Another Song for a Blue Guitar
Okay, I know, this isn't the most original song title, but don't let it turn you away from this beautiful song. Though this isn't the greatest song on the album, I think it's a fitting ending, and accomplishes the blues feel better than any of the other songs on the album. I think this song is about how, a lot of times when you're trying to write songs, it ends up coming out forced and you start losing who you really are in the music. The girl is seeing this. She can sense that it's all just an act to try and be something he's not, and she loses her hope in him becoming what she wants him to be. Beautiful song, and a great ending note to an epic album.
This review took me a long time to write. I'm only seventeen years old. I know I don't have the largest vocabulary to use to go into more detail about this album, but I tried my best, and I wanted to write a review worthy of this album. This album has just passed its 10-year anniversary. Why on earth Red House Painters aren't better known is beyond me. I think they're one of the best bands of the past decade and they'll always hold a place in my heart. Though this album has some weak moments, the songs that do shine make up for the lost ground, and then some. Please, do yourself a favor, and go pick this album up. At least give it a chance. If it doesn't stick to you right away, just give it a few listens, it'll grow on you. I promise.
Stand out tracks:
Have You Forgotten
Priest Alley Song
All Mixed Up
Revelation Big Sur
Another Song for a Blue Guitar
Final Rating: 5/5