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Friday, February 28, 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 13 - No Other


Top 102 Albums Minus 13
No Other - Gene Clark
"Some streets are easy
While some are cruel
Could these be reasons
Why man is Life's Greatest Fool"

Gene Clark was a founder member of The Byrds and wrote their signature song Eight Miles High. That's enough to assure a place in the Hall of Fame, I guess.

By the time he got around to recording No Other he had left the Byrds, recorded a solo album, rejoined The Byrds for three weeks, recorded more solo albums and rejoined The Byrds a second time only for the band to break up after releasing the album Byrds.

I only know one of his other solo albums, White Light, and it is pretty special but No Other is very special. It is one of those albums that has gradually assumed the mantle of greatness after having been critically and commercially dismissed at the time. The awful irony is that it's rehabilitation wasn't completed until after Clark's death. He himself felt that it was his masterpiece, but didn't live to see any kind of widespread agreement on this fact. His headstone reads "Harold Eugene Clark - No Other". Now it seems to have arrived.

Indeed, while looking the album up to get some info I see that it has reached a similar type of cult status to Sister Lovers, being played in full by a band consisting of a number of the new folk aristocracy. The video above is a recreation of the title track featuring lead vocals from Dan Rossen of Grizzly Bear. Also see this LINK

It is an album full of a desperate yearning, chasms of loneliness opening beneath the shimmer of the pedal steel. No Other, Grievous Angel and Sister Lovers could be packaged as a triple album registering the seismic collapse of confidence which appears to have occurred in the early seventies. But they are built on an openly displayed vulnerability which suggests that there is hope somewhere, or was. The death of the brief flirtation with Utopian dreams may have left but here there is still little cynicism. Indeed the fundamentally hopeful desire to connect with the past is evident in many of Clark's arrangements, which seem to me to attempt, like The Band and The Grateful Dead, to locate their voices amid the voices of both past and future, refusing to agree that radicalism was either novel or transient.
"When I'm feeling high or I'm feeling low
Or there is no change
Somehow days keep melting into the night
And there's always light on the cosmic range 
I am always high I am always low 
There is always change"

It is an impressionistic album, full of images of flight and suffused with light. At times, particularly in Silver Raven, it seems to leave the earth far more than eight miles below, the song seeming to tell of a silver ship leaving a dying planet behind. Whether the flight is physical or psychedelic I'm none too certain though.
"Have you seen the silver raven she has wings and she can fly
Far above the the darkened waters far above the troubled sky
Have you seen the changing rivers now they wait their turn to die
But they turn their tide upon you when the sea begins to cry
Have you seen the changing windows
Of the sea beyond the stars
And the sky beyond the sunbeams and the world beyond your dreams"

There is a desire for the transcendent running through this album - it is haunted by glimpses of silver and dreams of flight and by doubt as to whether these are substance or illusion:  "Words can be empty/ though filled with sound." It is like a hall of mirrors filled with glimpses of paradise which can only be seen in reflection, and the nagging awareness that there is no way in and no way out. But with this soundtrack you may not want to leave.

4 comments:

  1. Lovely review of a neglected gem. Been up in the attic to look for mine. It's gone! Just reordered from Amazon. I remember it as a stoner version of Astral Weeks; look forward to reengaging and changing that opinion...

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    1. Astral Weeks is not a bad touchstone. There's definitely a certain kindred spirit.

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  2. Flying High, an excellent 2 CD compilation with songs chosen by Sid Griffin, was my introduction to Gene. Strangely, Sid was not keen on No Other. I love the album. One of the few albums I can listen to all the way through. Amazing that he was never seen reading a book given the quality of his lyrics. Your review, Seamus, set me off on a Gene binge - here is my current Top 10:

    1. Fair and Tender Ladies 2. The Virgin 3. Some Misunderstanding 4. Polly 5. Through the Morning, Through the Night 6. Gypsy Rider 7. Silver Raven 8. Spanish Guitar 9. With Tomorrow 10. Feel a Whole Lot Better.

    Brendan

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    1. Thanks Brendan - this gives me some pointers as to what other Gene albums I should be listening to. No Other and White Light are so good it's almost as if I don't need any more, if you know what I mean.

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