Friday, September 3, 2010

Album Review: (Smog) – Supper

After the somewhat disappointing Rain On Lens album, Bill Callahan went back to basics and ‘headed back to the country’ for this 2003 album, which has a definite country feel.

The steel guitar is prominent from the first track, Feather By Feather, which would have fit in well on Red Apple Falls. The track has a relaxed, unhurried feel about it, reinforced by Sarabeth Tucek’s backing vocals. The pace picks up with Butterflies Drowned In Wine, which takes the VU inspired chug of the previous album and marries it to the aforementioned steel guitar, by way of numerous changes in tempo and a vocal that sounds more like Lou Reed than ever. It should sound like a complete mess but weirdly, it doesn’t. Maybe it’s Tucek’s backing vocals? It beats the hell out of most of the Rain On Lens material, that’s for sure. If it appeared on a Lou Reed album it would probably be the best track.

Morality is another uptempo track, though less successful. Things improve with the understated, wary Ambition, which floats in on some eerie organ, accompanied by nicely picked guitars. Vessel in Vain is a more stripped down, rootsy track. It’s a relatively simple melody which climaxes in an almost sing-along chorus, as he sings “my ideals have got me on the run”.

Later, Truth Serum is another fairly unrushed, lazy melody which has the feel of a vintage Van Morrison track about it. The playing on this is wonderfully light, though it has to be said that this and most of the other tracks take a few listens to grab you. At its core this one is an unashamed romantic duet, and though it lasts seven and a half minutes, you don’t want it to end. Which actually makes it better than some of the overlong tracks on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Our Anniversary is another fine lengthy melody, a little sparser but again the playing here has a great light touch to it. Driving on the other hand is a bit of a mess. I think he was aiming for a sort of repetitive mantra effect but it disrupts the flow of the album a bit. Final track Guiding Light is better, it’s a darker and shorter track, reminiscent of some of the stripped down closing tracks on older Smog albums. He sings about the sun sinking, and “staying up long into the night” over ringing electric guitar and minimal percussion. Nice to end on a down note. (!)

This is a fine album though it’s a real grower, requiring multiple listens, though if you have patience it will be rewarded.