John Watts - Thirteen Stories High
After a break of several years, John Watts repackaged himself under his own name and put the Fischer-Z brand, which had been using for the previous decade, to bed, for a while at least. When John Watts is not playing with Fischer-Z he is simply John Watts. Truth be told, the two are indistinguishable. This might as well be Fischer-Z. The same lyrical invention and depth is there as is the same melodic foundation and sometimes irreverent take on life.
It took a long time for me to get used to this, but in the end I managed it. Yes this is classic late John Watts. And it is not a bad listen as well. Just don't expect to be grabbed immediately and sit up and take notice. Listen to this a few times and get beneath the skin of it to begin to truly appreciate it. For those who are not already fans of John Watts/Fischer-Z, here is probably not the best place to start. By this time John Watts had developed a style all his own and those of us who had accompanied him on his musical journey were more familiar with it, though it still took time, frequently, to get under the skin of his albums.
Thirteen Stories High is a combination of rock and ballad in terms of overall musical styles. As is to be expected from Watts, the lyrics and the music fit together well. By this time, John Watts was becoming more personal in his music, not that the music was more autobiographical, but in the sense that it was something he wanted to write about, not that he felt the need to write about because someone or something expected it of him. This is perhaps the main reason why the idiosyncratic style Watts was adopting made it difficult for the casual listener to appreciate.
The highlight is the track "Angel of Gardenia", a magical ballad about a builder overcome by an angel and falls from a building site, only to be saved from injury by the angel. Now this, on the face of it, sounds like a really naff concept for a song, a bit cheesy and melodramatic. However, it is rescued, and indeed elevated to a fine track not only by the lyrics and the flow with which they are delivered, but also by the guitar which slowly but quietly builds into a riff which really sticks in your mind.
Of the other tracks, the pick of the bunch is probably "Loveshaker" which is another track which draws attention to itself through its harder than usual edge to the chorus. "My Brilliant Career" is interesting for the amusing look at fame - one wonders if there is any autobiographical or even wistful element in the track. The rest of the album contains some pretty useful tracks as well, but none really sticks in the mind to be memorable enough, or so you would think. Then again, occasionally I find myself humming a tune and, after a bit of effort, recognise it is from this album. The only real downside is the reprise of "Sublime" - I absolutely hate reprises.
Soon after this, John Watts went off on a bit of a tangent. The next couple of solo/Fischer-Z albums proved to be less organic musically than what had gone before. He moved towards a big beat style of music and perhaps lost his way a bit, or is that too harsh an assessment. This album therefore marks the last of his good output from the nineties.
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