8/29/2006

A Moment Of Complete Suspension.

I was inspired by a listen to th' remarkable Sundays remarkable 1992 gem Blind recently en route this week. It was the last thing before my cassette player blew.

It is on Blind that the young and lithesome Harriet Wheeler creates the definitive moment of her career with her breathy, ferocious, tour de force vocal on the song "Goodbye". All the vocal halmarks are here, the spartan overdubbing of ascerbic countermelodies, the perfectly-pitched, wide-open delivery, the un-comped performance.

"Goodbye" is clearly designed as even more of a vocal showcase for Wheeler than the rest of The Sundays' vocal-dominated canon. It's such an impressive piece of work and so affecting that it simply pulverizes their first medium-sized hit, 1990's "Here's Where The Story Ends". It reveals volumes about the fickleness of the market, the right-place-right-time absolutism of radio and the whole thing that this song didn't make any sort of splash.

I saw The Sundays on this tour at the beginning of '93 at The Belly Up in Solana Beach CA and I knew the live version of this song would make or break this band for me. They'd either be really good amateurs that struck on a sound and a great singer or they'd be In The Circle; Greats, craftspeople of th' highest order.

And when they opened with "Goodbye" Wheeler delivered the song note for note, every inflection intact, like it was Leider, you know? It was one of the five most musically impressive things I've ever seen. There was such a confidence, an off-handedness, about the way she sang it that it was clear she'd been doing it for two weeks running and would do it just the same for the next month. And never give it a thought. She was like a waifey Callas.

I think The Sundays might have run out of steam, victims of a crummy and sort of indifferent marketplace after their not-particularly-hailed, whisper of a record Static And Silence in th' mid-90's. Grunge edged out a lot more great bands than we'll ever even know. I think of the mighty Dada. Of the incomparable Jellyfish. The Elvis Costello of my generation, Michael Penn.
The Sundays got a little lazy as a band on their last effort, the rhythm section sounding a little phoned-in because they had the Wheeler vocal magic and her and soulmate/guitarist David Gavurin's dreamy turn of melody.

All that aside, this recording from 1992 is a little chilling in its canny encapsulation of every thing that was good about The Sundays. And as a widely experienced musician I point to Wheeler's performance on "Goodbye" as nothing less than supernatural. A moment of complete suspension.

13 Comments:

Blogger fgfdsg said...

I remember hating most music in the late 80's, all the Bon Jovis and Poisons, and farty Stock-Aitken-Waterman disco hits, (a particularly english thing), but felt like there was a sea change coming between 1989-1991 or so, with Michael Penn, the Sundays, Jellyfish, english jangle pop like the Primitives, Curve and of course XTC's Oranges and Lemons.

Grunge completely snuffed it out, and both *craft* and melodic skill went right out the window with it.

Surprised to know the Sundays were still touring by 2003. Have they officially split?

Some people only really have one good album in them, and that's ok. 'Static...' mightn't be as crafted as the other albums, but sometimes I think songs can be small, both in focus and the moments they create. 'Summertime' is just what it is, a simple warm reflection, no need for 10 part harmonies and huge drums. Warm and easy.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Criminy, I put '03 instead of '93- phew.

Yeah, and there was that get-him-in-pieces-under-th'-floorboards-ASAP Rick fuckin' Astley. Bad times.

12:37 AM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

My friend Keaton loved Rick Astley. I always thought he had a voice like a seal trying to pole smoke an elephant.

Both shocked and sorry to see he crossed your side of the pond.

12:57 AM  
Anonymous Pinko Punko said...

Oh the apparition!

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you on The Sundays. Gorgeous music.

What are the other four?

3:42 AM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Those absolute Sirens from the early-mid 90s... Harriet Wheeler, Dolores O'Riordan, Hope Sandoval. Tie me to the mast and plug the crews' ears with wax so I can listen! Who could ever tire of those albums?!

9:58 AM  
Blogger Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

(And probably Sinead, too.)

10:00 AM  
Blogger roxtar said...

I guess I'm showing my age if I reference Martha Davis of the Motels. No reason on Earth why "Total Control" wasn't a fuckin' smash.

11:46 AM  
Blogger teh l4m3 said...

Okay, so in other words, like Callas after a few tapeworms.

PS Yes the Brian Wilson post was hilarious -- you could have taken a week off after that one.

PPS & Totally OT Did you know that Will Oldham AKA Bonnie "Prince" Billy first showed up in Matewan as a teenage preacher? Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus....

4:53 PM  
Blogger mdhatter said...

Shut Up. I just listened to "blind" the other day. First time in years.

I was intoduced to the Sundays by a beautiful girl with a tragic story, and just such a voice, (though a significantly more swedish body) good times that 17th summer.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Jeez, I feel so old. This is after my time, if such a period can be defined. No one ever introduced me to the music of the Sundays.

Least of all any Swedish babe.

9:16 AM  
Blogger mdhatter said...

Kevin, allow me. If you like 12 tring guitar and spotless vocals, go forth and buy "reading, writing, and arithmetic". The album stands up rather well for being the better part of 20 years old.

Better than most of what passes for radio play these days.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's a clip of harriet wheeler singing Goodbye, and as you can see, wheeler sings the song note-for-note as she does on all the songs.
http://tinyurl.com/f2k9d

more about the swedish babe. ;) i'm picturing nina persson of the cardigans.

6:23 AM  

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