Monday, February 21, 2011

Gene Clark - White Light

White Light (1971) *****

First let me point to the obvious flaw:  all nine of these tracks, with the exception of the sprightly title track, cover the same stylistic ground at a similarly slow pace in an overwhelmingly melancholy mood.  That is to say, this album is a mood piece, and so points should not be deducted for that, as it's one of the landmark LPs of the singer-songwriter movement of the late '60s/early '70s.  Yes, there is a noticable Dylan (John Wesley Harding-era) influence, but who didn't?  Neil Young?  Lou Reed?  John Prine?  Leonard Cohen?  Nope, no overt Dylan influences I can see in those artistes, nada nicht  沒有 ничто zip.  So, those two problems out of the way (it all sounds the same and breaks no innovative ground), what we have is an album of exquisite gorgeousness.  Like all moody mood albums you have to be in the mood for it, and that mood is moody:  Clark's forte is tortoise-paced melancholy pop-country ballads brooding on failed romance, and here you get seven A- to A+ level of'em (I already mentioned the title track as an exception, and the other is a cover of Dylan's "Tears of Rage," that matches/outshines the Band's depending on whether you like the Band at all).  The lyrical contents are generally generalized to abstraction, though it's often pretty clear what he's vaguely paintbrushing at - another failed love affair, eh?  ("With Tomorrow," "Because of You").  So I won't dwell on the lyrics.  The arrangements are sparse but not starkly so, based around Clark's acoustic guitar strummings with substantial fills from organs feeding the warmth; this is a mightily pleasant album to listen to sound-wise.  At nearly five breathtakingly lovely minutes, "For a Spanish Guitar," is sonically the stand-out track with the skilled pluckings of said instrument and lonesome harmonica adding to the aura of lush but stripped-down gorgeousness.  I once recommended this album to a friend who was into Gram Parsons and Nick Drake as a midpoint amalgamating the best of both, and that's a fair summation I might as well stand by.  With the focus squarely on the intimate delivery of his songs and fortunately armed with some of the strongest material in his catalogue, naturally this is the highlight of Clark's career and though a commercial bomb at the time, has gone down in recent MOJO-subscriber reissue-nerd years as a lost five-star classic essential for rediscovery.  And unlike a lot of "lost classics", it really does earn its belatedly feted reputation.

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