Static & Silence (DGC 25131)
Easily one of the best pop records of 1997, The Sundays' third album never really found an audience, but definitely deserves to be given more attention. Existing apart from any potential trend, the Sundays are a bit too "grown up" for today's kiddies with their tongue piercings and aimless skankin', yet are a bit too edgy for the Shawn Colvin crowd. As far as I can tell, the remaining audience seems to be post-collegiate white kids hanging on to that early-90s nostalgia, and girls whose world was rocked by "Wild Horses" being used as the love theme from Fear. Myself, I was utterly surprised when I heard there'd be a new Sundays record coming out in '97, having assumed they'd wisely hung it up after the dreary second record, Blind. Yet having also loved the first album (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic) obsessively while a preening college student, I was excited that perhaps they had another good record in 'em after all.
Static & Silence far exceeded my expectations for it. The first thing that was apparent was that their sound had matured a lot, taking on a folkiness not evident in their more Smiths-like earlier albums. Evidently a long break was exactly what they needed to come up with something fresh; what sunk Blind wasn't so much any substandard quality, but rather that it was just more of the same. The new album is much more dynamic, retaining the shimmering layers of guitar that made them exciting in the first place, but adding a sensitivity and pop sensibility that demonstrates a lot more musical depth than they had before.
The melodies are all very strong, and Harriet Wheeler's lyrics are still marked by surprising darkness hidden within the pure beauty of her voice. The first track (and big single) off the album, "Summertime," seems like the typical happy-go-lucky Mungo Jerry sort of thing, until you catch lines like "Do some people wind up with the one that they abhor/in a distant hell-hole room, third world war." One's 30's, with the seemingly inevitable marriage and kids, need not spoil one's bitterness.
There's a lot of Beatles running through the album, from the George Martin strings on "Leave This City," to the blatant "Norwegian Wood" rip-off "Your Eyes" (that wasn't a criticism, by the way), and the "Got to Get You Into My Life" horns on "I Can't Wait." It's an influence that takes very well, taking them away from the charming precociousness of their first album's Johnny Marr fixation. The best songs on the record are the acoustic folky ones ("Folk Song," "Homeward," the amazing "Monochrome"), although my favorite is the Band-like "When I'm Thinking About You" (even better than "Summertime"). There isn't a bad cut on the album, though if forced to choose one, I'd pick "So Much," then argue why I had to choose. "It's not fair, you bastard," I weep, "I don't think it's bad, actually!" I have no idea why all these thugs keep forcing me to choose my favorite and least favorite songs and albums. There's really no need to threaten me, I give my opinion willingly enough. Maybe it's that I'm always wearing musical gang colors.
Static & Silence was all but ignored by critics when it came out, given generally positive but very slight reviews in most of the usual places, with the British press in particular pronouncing it fairly lame and passe. I'd have to say I think it's a great, great album, certainly head and shoulders above most of the detritus that came out around the same time. For me, it was a pretty enjoyable summer, with new albums by the Sundays and Tanya Donelly reawakening my love for what was once called alternative girl pop, but now which is not really called anything at all. It's a deep affection I thought I'd buried underneath layers of Blue Note records and salsa (the music, not the dip, which I also enjoy on occasion). I guess you never really can escape your incipient tendency toward your formative post-high school "awakenings." Unfortunately, that association for me is all too literal, as I now fight Parkinson's disease in much the same way Robert De Niro did in the film of that same name.
Review by Yoy Springfield