Two Sides to Every Story (1977) ***
After the excessive ambition of No Other, Clark returned after several years' layoff with its polar opposite: Two Sides reeks with non-ambition, and thus goes down much easier than its more difficult predecessor. It is nothing more or less than a straightforward country album with a few mild (read: mild) pop and rock leanings (and the latter only shows up on the swangin' Elvis-boogie of "Marylou," which is gratingly suckjobby). So Clark wanted to issue a mainstream country album in the mid-'70s after the commercial debacle of No Other, and get back to his Kansas small town roots after all that high falutin' rock star psychedelia. It didn't work, and this album still remains unissued on CD after it bombed even worse. I suppose after the unsuccessful ploy for massive ambition that this was the logical direction for Clark to recoup his standing: this is a very modest album of moderate pleasures. It certainly isn't the place to start if you're wondering where the genius of Gene Clark lies, because there's little of that in evidence here. It's simply a modest collection of ten country songs, and by the standards of mainstream country albums, it's clearly superior to most. This is Gene Clark, after all - how could it be any less than a pleasurable listen? The inconsistencies are less glaring than on his previous straight country albums, perhaps because he focuses more on the soft balladic tear-in-my-beer side of country than hicksville stomps. That doesn't stop his cover of Leadbelly's "In the Pines," from sounding like a Dillard & Clark outtake, but most of the other tunes consist of soggily beer-soaked honky tonk laments - George Jones country, if you will. The songs do feel soggy, as it's clear that Clark's talent is slowly fading away, but it's a gradual, graceful fade. The centerpieces are situated side by side in the center of the album: the lovely "Sister Moon," which sounds like an outtake from No Other and is the closest Clark approaches mystical pop territory; and the album's clear highlight, a desolate reading of James Talley's "Give My Love to Marie." At six minutes, it has the feel of an offhand country epic in its grim, glacial pace, and is the only track that appears to reach for ambition: this wrenching tale of the cruel pressures working life have set upon a coal miner's black lungs will leave you close to tears if you have any affection for country laments or the plight of the working man at all. The rest of the songs feel anti-climactic in comparison; as for those - well, there's not much to say about them. Which isn't to say that this isn't, in fact, a fine collection of country songs in a low, modest key. Just be prepared for the mood of underwhelming and everything'll work out fine.