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Variety is the spice of Spider

By Daniel J. Katz

A plea to potential listeners: before you make a judgment on Sparklehorse’s new album, Good Morning Spider (Capitol), listen to both of the first two tracks. Many people may be turned off by the raw grating sound of “Pig”: two and a half minutes of driving rock distorted so much that it’s almost ugly. Others may enjoy “Pig” and expect more of the same, only to balk at the second song, “Painbirds”, a slightly sinister but generally delicate ballad. It is immediately apparent that this album was recorded for adventurous souls.

Adventurous souls, especially those accustomed to Mansun, Placebo, or Radiohead (who have, in fact, used Sparklehorse as an opening act) will love it.

Featuring several short instrumental tracks and a straight pop song drowned out by static (“Chaos of the Century”), Spider is an eccentric album to say the least. But then, Sparklehorse is an eccentric “band,” consisting of only one member, Mark Linkous, with several guests on various tracks. The wide range of instrumentation and artists allows Linkous to experiment with numerous styles, drawing them all together with a tender and melodic voice strangely reminiscent of Tom Petty’s. Go figure.

It would be futile to try to capture all the variety of Good Morning Spider in a review, but I can pinpoint some of the highlights. “Sick of Goodbyes” is an insidiously catchy number that builds from a funkily steady guitar background into a bouncy chorus with authority. “Cruel Sun” is another noisy rock track that begins like a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion song and ends incredibly abruptly. “Ghost Of His Smile” revels in a fat, constant bassline, contrasting it with xylophones and a cutesy guitar melody, supporting a oddly Hamletesque chorus: “I can’t forget the ghost or his smile.”

The three selections above are relatively fast-paced songs, but even the relaxing songs on this album, such as “Painbirds” and the soft, organ-basedCome On In” clock in at under five minutes. This heightens the effect of moving quickly from one genre to another. The amazing thing is that Linkous is proficient in all of them, creating a musical train ride that deftly weaves back and forth but never jostles the listener too much.

The aforementioned static in “Chaos of the Century” clears up after about two minutes, revealing its heart, the single-worthyHappy Man.” It’s a nice metaphor for the album itself; Sparklehorse’s latest effort is by no means easy to approach (although Radiohead fans will probably adjust pretty quickly), but if you have the patience to listen to it a few times, you’ll soon find that it contains some very memorable musical treasures. Anyone willing to try something new and different should give it a spin.