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Location: Roxbury, Massachusetts, United States

Trying to bring some light to the past while igniting the future one album and artist at a time. This was previously attempted as EXODUS IN STEREO, but this time, baby, it's for real. ;-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Gene Clark NO OTHER (Asylum) 1974

Great art in its purest form, regardless of the medium it presents itself within, transcends the notions of mortal existence as we perceive it and becomes an immortal abstraction defying description, definition, or explanation. Great art also causes a concrete reaction, be it love or hate, adoration or despisement, praise or condemnation. It does not cause indifference or disinterest, and any art that does might as well be worthless as it is essentially useless.

Great paintings are like this, as are great books, films, sculpture, photography, and great music, be it opera, jazz, hip hop, or rock and roll. Great music moves beyond place and time, as well as point and purpose. Great music has the ability to shift moods, alter mindsets, and affect feelings. There exists a small group of rock and roll albums such as this, among them Starsailor by Tim Buckley, The Idiot by Iggy Pop, Rock Bottom by Robert Wyatt, Tonight's The Night and On The Beach by Neil Young, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Closer by Joy Division, and No Other by former Byrds frontman Gene Clark.

When Gene Clark recorded No Other in 1974, the world at large was not ready for it. Capturing a certain mood in time that is also explored by Iggy Pop's underrated wasted in L.A. collaboration with James Williamson, Kill City (recorded 1975, released 1977), and Tim Buckley's booze soaked postcard from the depth Greetings From L.A. (1973), No Other is positioned from the point of Clark heading directly into the abyss. Endless pages could be filled the mood and textures of the eight songs that make up the record, but one thing is certain: this is a collection of songs that band together as one to paint a picture of someone standing on the edge, resigned to a destiny and surrendering to a fate that they know is ultimately inevitable. Though by all accounts Clark wrote the record during a positive part of his life, the deep cutting reverberations of darkness that underscore the music and production of the songs themselves cannot be denied. Not that the dark power of the record is necessarily negative, but there is something undeniably strong and frankly scary about what Clark, with his producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye, was able to create in 1974 that had a profound affect on the man who made the record and altered his career for the rest of his life. In a word, No Other was Gene Clark's attempt at making a masterpiece, which he most certainly accomplished, but its failure crushed him and sent him spiraling slowly towards his very sad demise in 1991. It was, as if, Clark knew that his was his last go round, and he gave it his very best shot.

The album starts out deceitfully enough with the seemingly innocent "Life's Greatest Fool", though that title alone already lets you know what you are in for. A pleasant acoustic driven western swagger with chirpy pedal steel, Clark begins the tune in his gorgeous, velvet throated tones with:

Some walk out winner of those who've lost
Can it be said at any price this is the cost
Hard is perception easier is blame
Is this the only life for everyone is it the same?
Children laugh and run away
While others look into the darkness of the day
Some streets are easy while some are cruel
Could these be reasons why man is life's greatest fool?

If you shudder reading those, they are even more jolting when sung by Clark plaintively over the gorgeous backing. Suddenly though, the song explodes into a resurrecting chorus of gospel singers and uplifting surges, with

Do you believe when you're all alone
You held the key to your destiny gone
Do you believe deep in your soul
That too much loneliness makes you grow old

You could easily put these words into a Joy Division song and they would fit perfectly. Though the backing has all of the footstomping power of a Southern Baptist revival, the uneasiness in the words lends a feeling akin to Flannery O'Connor's stories of evil in its all its forms and its relation to the human experience. This is where it starts.

"Silver Raven" follows, a song that became a bit of a signature for Clark, that was in part inspired by his wife. The words seem especially Mishima inspired (practically referencing The Temple Of The Golden Pavilion and The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea) with lines such as:

Have you seen the changing rivers now they wait their turn to die
But they turn their tide upon you when the sea begins to cry

Clark's voice takes on some almost Tuvan throat singing like features as he paints the vivid picture of the song. Some CSNY-like backing vocals appear towards the end, for better or for worse, though the processing on them makes them far more interesting and seemingly projected from out of a sinister transistor radio lost on the ocean.

As reasonably positive as the first song is and contemplative as the second one reveals itself to be, the vortex at the centre of this album opens up with all its mite on the third, the title track of "No Other". Sparse electric piano notes emerge and flicker like distant shooting stars, while the rest of the instruments slowly rustle to attention. And suddenly, with no warning, a single, blubbering black synth note is hit and the whirlpool is suddenly sliced open dead centre. The electric piano picks itself up, the energy rises, and then Gene begins:

All alone you say that you don't want no other
So the lord is love and love is like no other

The F#m thrown into an otherwise normal chord run is what seems to throw this song into a sequence slightly different, causing the disturbing undertones of imbalance that belie the song. All the same, though, there are no words that can be written or emotions that can be expressed that can explain or even describe that first minute of the song. The "reverberating darkness" expressed, a sorrow hinted at, and a profound sense of fate are all there. The mood holds throughout, even when the song begins to gallop and groove to a close, with Joe Lala's percussion going wild over the deep throes of bass and synth.

"Strength of Strings" closes the first side on a somber note, soaring soulful female backing vocals and affected electric and acoustic guitars leading the way in pensive figures. Clark sounds like he is already starting to give way, reflecting upon his state of being that proves to be imbalanced in a way, with admissions such as:

On the cosmic range
I am always high
I am always low
There is always change

But despite all of this, the side still ends on an indeterminate note.

And that is just the first side. The next four songs take us further down into the abyss, with "From A Silver Phial", which was apparently inspired by a very bad night of too much cocaine, leading the way. The 8 minute plus "Some Misunderstanding" sounds like a grand confession of surrender, doubt, and the end of the road. More Joy Division comparisons can arise here, especially with lines such as:

We all need a fix
At a time like this
But doesn't it feel good
To stay alive

Is Clark talking about getting high, or is he talking about not getting what you need? Is Clark asking the question about living, or is he looking for agreement? You can see him being in between, flying high in the Southern California air in the middle of some night, wondering just that. The music flows along in a piano-led determination, never quite resolving itself, though Clark does offer up the following:

If you sell your soul to brighten your role
You might be disappointed in the lights

Man...oh man. Say what you will about success, and how too many folks in the limelight take it for granted or complain about it too bitterly. One must remember, however, that Gene hadn't really had any in a long time.

"The True One" is the most country of the bunch, though the words owe a lot more to Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson than they do Louis L'Amour. Bright pedal steel balances out the question "which one is the true one?" while never quite resolving itself.

The gorgeous and beautifully dynamic "Lady Of The North" closes the album. A love song to be sure, the words describe a love and respect so great that they are near heavenly. Chipper piano plays throughout, and despite the fact that one of the figures quotes "Chariots Of Fire" years before Vangelis actually wrote that theme, the song holds up. Cool wah-wah guitar, cello, and violin all blend in to create a sort of other worldly plethora of sound, with some uneasy synth washes painting the underside in questioning tones. The very end of the tune closes in some further synth figures that would re-quote themselves the next year in "Master Charge" on Iggy Pop and James Williamson's Kill City, the last song on that record. In both instances it gives the visual of the figure at question, driving through the night, perhaps on his way towards destiny, or perhaps on his way towards change, but all the same, the resolution as we see it is ours to decide. All the same, the albums ends in the same take no prisoners way as it begins. It is your choice to decide if you want to be encompassed by the sheer mass of its sound and emotion, but even that can be unavoidable at times. No Other is truly one of the greatest records on the 20th century, bar none.

The Rhino/WSM CD re-issue adds an almost complete second version of the album (the Collector's Choice version, ironically and sadly, does not feature any bonus tracks). Early and very basic versions of six of the eight tracks of the album are offered up, all of which demonstrate the degree of change that Thomas Jefferson Kaye's production gave the songs. In some ways, these versions more closely resemble Clark's previous effort, White Light, than anything else. And while some songs are not quite as different, such as "Life's Greatest Fool", others, such as "No Other" and "Lady Of the North", are radically different in their impact. However, despite the simpler arrangements and production, the songs are still gorgeous if not quite as monumental.

Also included as a bonus is a version of Clark's "Train Leaves Here This Morning", first recorded by Clark with Douglas Dillard as part of Dillard & Clark's 1969 debut The Fantastic Expedition Of Dillard & Clark. Why he chose to re-record the tune is not stated nor known, but all the same it is a beautiful version, and a bit more biting than the original version. It would have fit comfortably on No Other, but for whatever reason it was left just where it was. Maybe Gene just didn't want to look back any further.

Gene Clark – No Other
Originally released: 1974
Rhino/WSM Cd re-issue with bonus tracks released: 2003
Produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye
Engineered by Tony Reale with Joe Tuzen at The Village Recorder, Los Angeles, CA.
Mixed at Wally Heider Recording, Studio D, San Francisco, CA. Engineer: Mallory Earl.

Side One
1. Life Greatest Fool
2. Silver Raven
3. No Other
4. Strength Of Strings

Side Two
1. From A Silver Phial
2. Some Misunderstanding
3. The True One
4. Lady Of the North

Bonus Tracks (Rhino/WSM CD re-sissue only)
1. Train Leaves Here This Morning (Previously Unreleased Outtake)
2. Life's Greatest Fool (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
3. Silver Raven (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
4. No Other (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
5. From A Silver Phial (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
6. Some Misunderstanding (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)
7. Lady Of The North (Previously Unreleased Alternate Version)

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