Monday, June 16, 2008

This Beautiful Mess

The Sixpence None the Richer that I love is not the SNtR that you know. The band you know put out a bunch of pop-ballad garbage that earned them notoriety from the "Dawson's Creek" gang. But before they collapsed into drivel, they had some meaningful work, which I've been re-discovering lately. I heartily recommend (to anyone) 1995's This Beautiful Mess, an alt-rock gem, heavily inspired by The Cure. It's lilting, clever, sophisticated, and frank. In many ways, it stands as a stark contrast to 1997's eponymous album that featured the 1999 single Kiss Me and launched the band into disposable pop-fluff stardom. It's worth noting that the interim involved changes in line-up and management.

Just as a side note, while Sixpence in '95 was a Christian band, TBM is not the kind of album that ostracizes non-Christian listeners. Christian-to-mainstream crossover hits were popular in the mid 90's (see also Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, et al). So you frequently ended up with vaguely religious non-singles and a few songs that obliquely referenced biblical stores or events (See Flood or in this case The Garden).

The first thing you'll notice about the album is that it's quiet. But that's okay--it's not mastered poorly, it's just not compressed within an inch of it's life. Your ears will thank you. Yes, it's a little quieter over all, but it's dynamic, it's lively, it has definition. It breathes. Just cautiously rotate the volume knob clockwise until it reaches a comfortable level, then turn it down a few degrees because once it will get loud in just a second. The beginning of the song is very quiet and soothing, just to mess with you.

Some highlights:

Angeltread - the opening track, one that really draws you in. It oscillates between scintillating and scathing as the verses lull and the choruses soar. Very dynamic.

Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death - the intro riff is an attention-grabber with the delayed bass/guitar interplay.

Within a Room, Somewhere - another title that leads me to believe that the lyrics were written by someone with a poetry background. This is the best song off the album and it has a great instrumental outro. For devotees, there's a demo version of this song with an even longer guitar break outro on the Tickets for a Prayer Wheel EP. This song really showcases the soundscape of the album: jangly guitars mixed with nasty guitars mixed with atmospheric guitars and just enough space left for Leigh Nash's tasty soprano vocals.

Circle of Error - this is the one you'll be singing to yourself after the album is over. It's placement as track 6 of 12 is, in my humble opinion, the result of a Side-A/Side-B mentality left over from the days of the cassette tape. I wonder if, were the record produced today, if it would have been pushed back a few tracks to bridge from Act II into a finale, rather a bookend shoved into the middle because the of mandates of the format.

That said, the album is front-loaded with the more memorable songs, and the back, while exquisite, is a bit more evanescent right up until...

I Can't Explain - This is how you close an album, with a high-powered coda. After a much slower, more introspective second-half, this track kicks the disc back into top gear. The ending of the song also demonstrates some of the fun things a mix engineer can do with tape flanges, but I won't spoil it for you.

So if you get the chance, give this album a listen, because it far exceeds anything the band did afterwards, and because good new music is so hard to find. It's nice to know that maybe there's some good old music you haven't discovered yet.

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