Monday, September 5, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

Over the weekend, I ran a Twitter poll asking people to vote for their favourite Sparklehorse LP. Debut album Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot shot into an early lead, but after 24 hours and a total of 70 votes, the final results were as follows:
  1. It's a Wonderful Life (41%)
  2. Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot (34%)
  3. Good Morning Spider (19%)
  4. Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain (6%)
2001's It's a Wonderful Life, the third of Sparklehorse's four albums, is an intriguing winner. It was conceived as a slightly sarcastic response to critics who complained that Good Morning Spider - an album written and recorded shortly after Mark Linkous overdosed in a hotel bathroom and temporarily lost the use of his legs - was too depressing, and while every Sparklehorse album has its fair share of sad bits, Wonderful Life is easily the most sombre of the bunch.

This album doesn't have a soaring indie anthem like Vivadixie standout Someday I Will Treat You Good. It doesn't have a moment of breakneck fury like Pig from Good Morning Spider. King of Nails admittedly rocks pretty hard, but even that track feels tethered and thoughtful rather than angry or cathartic:

Besides, King of Nails is something of an anomaly amongst the album's overall sound and feel. This was the first time Linkous recorded an LP outside of his own home studio, and the time he spent in the studio with Dave Fridmann (the man who produced - among many, many other great recordsDeserter's Songs by Mercury Rev) resulted in a far warmer, fuller-sounding release than either Vivadixie or Good Morning Spider. Listening to Wonderful Life is like wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in front of a fireplace on a cold autumn evening: it's not as thrilling a rollercoaster as Vivadixie or as patchwork a quilt as Good Morning Spider, but if you're looking for an album that you can sink into like an generously-cushioned armchair or a hot bath at the end of the day then step right this way.

It's a Wonderful Life is Sparklehorse's most gorgeous LP, and probably the most cohesive that Mark Linkous ever made. Apparently, it's also - and this surprised me, given its more subtle approach and lack of obvious singles - the best-selling Sparklehorse album, not to mention the one that gave us the song that would serve as Linkous's most fitting epitaph when he sadly committed suicide in 2010:

"May all your days be gold, my child"

A worthy winner after all, then.

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