Monday, 16 January 2012
Gene Clark: No Other
Sweet Gene Clark. How sad and typical of his ill luck that he died in 1991, just as the consensus swung his way.
He had been the most handsome Byrd and their finest and most prolific songwriter, but on stage he was sidelined as tambourine player, a proto-Davy Jones. Fear of flying meant he would leave and rejoin the group on several occasions - it also hindered the promotion of any subsequent Clark projects. For decades, ludicrously, he remained a well-kept muso/fanboy secret.
Aside from his mastery of melancholy, there had been few clues in Gene Clark's back pages that he would deliver something this wild and dark - his last fully realised album had been the beautiful but spartan White Light in 1971. The turning point was meeting the producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye, a Steely Dan acolyte and one-time colleague of the wunderkind producer Curt Boettcher. Their shared love of Zen Buddhism, booze and drugs took them to the Village Recorder studios in west LA in March 1974 with $100,000 from Asylum Records burning a hole in Kaye's pocket.
He had just massively overspent on a Bobby Neuwirth album and now saw No Other as "my Brian Wilson extravaganza". As for Clark, the record was "all about soul searching". Eight songs in six months suggest that there was plenty of that.
Strength of Strings is the album's centrepiece. The brief Clark set himself was to convey the subconscious way in which music is created, how it can be so magical, spiritual, overwhelming. No less. He pulls it off with a slow-burning intro of near-oriental harmonies, almost treading on Crosby, Stills and Nash's toes, while Kaye adds layers of ghostly church voices until the whole thing explodes with Clark's tearful tones - "In my life the piano sings, brings me words that are not the strength of strings." Side 2's opener, From a Silver Phial, is almost light relief, though its lyric - criss-crossing between the tale of a cocaine casualty and a sensual master-servant saga from the old South (or is it Hollywood?) - is as much the opaque heart of No Other's mystique as Strength Of Strings' grandeur.
Posted by Bob Stanley at Monday, January 16, 2012