Galaxie 500 - On Fire
It is almost as if the band came to this sound by default in the sense that they could not do anything substantially different. The result is a cross between psychedelia, punk, dream pop, jangle pop with elements of post-punk thrown in, all in an attempt to make a pop album which would have some wide appeal. What is remarkable about all of this is that it actually works. On Fire is an album which offers a look into the future and a look back at the past, all from the perspective of the late eighties. Listen and you can hear elements of everything from the Velvet Underground to the Feelies, and a few other worthy names as well. Yet at no point do the band fall into the trap of simply being a sum of all their influences for they are much more than that. Listen to their version of New Order's "Ceremony" and you will get the picture. Without departing too much from the original, they have nonetheless managed to create something which is, well as I said earlier, both unique and familiar.
The band's sound is dominated by Dean Wareham's plaintiff voice. Best described as characterful, it is a voice which ignores the limitations of its own ability. And therein lies its strength. When Wareham begins to send his voice soaring, the personality in it cries out, even though at times it is a little less than pitch perfect. But it is perfect for the songs he sings, full of sadness and melancholy, and with images which are not drawn from the depths of intellect or erudition, but from simple straightforward human observation. Take this wonderfully simple expression of frustration in love off "Tell Me" -
"I bought all the drinks/And I paid for your friends/Jesus can't you see/I'm goin round the bend?"
No honeyed words of fancy emotions here, just a straightforward expression of feeling in the sort of simple everyday language anyone in a similar situation would use. Yet at other times, Wareham expresses his emotions in a sentiment which is familiar to many songs, yet does so in a way in which, his voice faltering, makes it seem all the more poignant, such as these lines from "Isn't It a Pity" -
"Isn't it a pity/Isn't it a shame/How we break each other's hearts/And cause each other pain."
The album's stand out track is undoubtedly "Decomposing Trees", largely because the vocals and the bass playing of Naomi Yang come together perfectly with a soft yet plaintiff guitar and the addition of a tenor sax. But this is merely the best of a good bunch. There is a lot in this album which will want you to come back to it more and more. And there is no higher praise than that.
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