Ginger’s Secret History Of Rock’n’Roll (pt.6)
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: “Buy this album and if you don’t like it, I will personally buy it from you…”
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
2006, Interscope Records
Few things are as surprising as Trail Of The Dead’s mainstream obscurity, just as few things are as satisfying as turning another potential obsessive on to this amazing album. I’ve personally bought and handed out over a dozen copies of So Divided, then sat back and waited for the typical response. Which always comes.
“I can’t stop playing that bloody album.”
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, casually cobbled together by Conrad Keely and Jason Reece around 1994 in Austin, Texas, with not much of a plan in mind, would release four full-length albums over the next 10 years, with varying degrees of critical acclaim and creative success – 2005′s Worlds Apart receiving the lion’s share of accolades. It wasn’t until 2006, however, that the band would unleash their coup de gras to a largely critical fan base who preferred instead the earlier garage-art-noise leanings of previous releases.
Where their album Worlds Apart would suggest a rich vein of baroque grandeur hidden amongst the edgy guitars, So Divided removes the shackles and spreads its wings in a rare outburst of creativity to rival anything Ennio Morricone, George Martin, Danny Elfman and John Barry could collectively muster in collaboration with, say, Jane’s Addiction, U2 or Pink Floyd.
Wide-ranging, intensely layered yet still possessing a stylish swagger, this collection of songs and musical interludes treats and challenges the listener, with hugely rewarding results.
Often people are unable to fully appreciate the intricacy of this album on first listen, but by the second spin you will be enslaved. There doesn’t seem to be any other response, judging by the many reactions I’ve personally witnessed so far.
Opening piece, ‘Intro: A Song Of Fire And Wine’, leads in with a cinematic majesty that creates an ornate ballroom entrance for the quality to come, only for ‘Stand In Silence’ to burst into the party, leaping on tables and covering the guests in red wine and shattered glass. With the dying final chord given barely enough time to ring out the sprightly percussive intro for ‘Wasted State Of Mind’ hardly prepares the listener for the next five and a half minutes of sonic perfection.
With a chorus so colossal that only the celestial vocal delivery of Conrad Keely could sit confidently atop the fanfare, this is a song with power beyond simple writing skills, tapping into a rare energy that few ever master on record. Simply stunning.
‘Naked Sun’ offers brief respite before tearing off again in another of the album’s highlights, a sly cover of Guided By Voices’ ‘Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory’, taking the sparse home recording of the original and giving it an over-the-top dressing up with almost Rufus Wainwright grandiosity. Dramatic, soaring and deeply touching, this showcases a band with complete understanding of the power of both vocal harmony and dynamics. Utterly breathtaking.
Next, ‘So Divided’ settles into a rare controlled groove, the likes of which the album was originally criticised for – accused of being too reliant on ballads. Utter nonsense, not to mention plainly insulting. A Trail Of The Dead ballad could just as easily be a well-measured piano-and-strings-based slice of magic as it could a warning sign that things are about to shift into rhythmic fury at any point. Such is the case with the track ‘So Divided’ as it spirals into pounding kettle drums and low piano strings being seemingly attacked by steel mallets.
As ‘Life’ treads a cinematic path down a rainy cobbled street it suddenly, and typically segues into almost Eraserhead territory as a female voice gently ushers in yet another of the high points in an album of highlights, the sublime ‘Eight Day Hell’, a song so instantly loveable it would be futile to resist its infectious charms. Skipping merrily along with its balmy summertime rhythms, this Polyphonic Spree-sized joy-fest suggests the album has now reached its ceiling.
Only, then, in the hands of masters could this be a cue to steer the vessel underwater into Beck-style depths with the wonderful ‘Witches Web’. Lonesome wails of pedal steel tug on polar opposite emotional strings as ‘Eight Day Hell’, no less effective, no less devastating. This is absolute quality. And also illustrates how redundant is the argument that the album is dead.
And with one final eerie segue the album bids fond adieu with ‘Sunken Dreams’. Rivalling U2 at their most epic, it is a fitting end to an thoroughly incredible experience designed to be repeated.
And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are perhaps best known for their chaotic live shows, often resulting in every instrument being destroyed, leaving the stage in splintered devastation.
Nothing wrong in that, you say. And you’d be right. Total devastation is as beautiful as it is extreme in the right hands.
Take away the volume, the lights and the crowd, however, and very few bands are able to commit to legend an artistic statement worthy of classic status. Or, putting it another way, anyone can smash shit up.
Only the truly great are capable of making an album as spirited and awe-inspiring as So Divided.
Few things are as surprising as Trail Of Dead’s mainstream obscurity, as already stated, but don’t let that put you off immediate purchase of an album that’s every bit as good as Dark Side Of The Moon.
And if you don’t like it, which is relatively impossible, I will personally buy it from you.
I don’t mind. I’ll give it to someone I love.
It’s what I do.
Hear And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead at their MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/trailofdead