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Album review: Slowdive – “Pygmalion”

26/12/2010

Thus continues my series of personal best records of all time reviewed.

Slowdive’s “Pygmalion” is a different beast from “Souvlaki”, and likewise it possesses a different kind of beauty. While “Souvlaki” relied on conventional songwriting and a distorted, then heavily reverbed wall of guitars, “Pygmalion” is abstract and distortion is thrown out of the equation for good – or if present, is even more reverbed. Given that Slowdive were faced with the possibility of being kicked out by Creation Records unless they deliver a “pop” album, Neil Halstead has decided to make it his own way regardless… and succeeded wildly. Needless to say, after the release of the album, Slowdive were no more, and Halstead with Rachel Goswell and Ian McCutcheon, the band’s drummer at the time, regrouped as an alt-country/dream pop outfit Mojave 3.

That all said, this album is essentially Neil Halstead’s solo show. Ian McCutcheon only shows up for three songs, Rachel Goswell, likewise, for two (and possibly a backing vocal on “All of Us”), where she takes the lead – and these songs are among the record’s best, “Miranda” taking the cake because it’s more developed than “Visions of La”. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m just enamored with Rachel Goswell’s voice. Still, the album’s best songs are unleashed right from the start – “Rutti” is a 10-minute long exploration of negative space (whoa there! I sound like those guys from Pitchfork!) and “Crazy for You” is also pretty much an exploration – just what does it explore, I don’t know though.

“Blue Skied an’ Clear” and “All of Us” are also pretty good.

Damn, I’m out of words.

Although, I’m not too keen on “Trellisaze” and “J’s Heaven” because they go on too long for their own good – “J’s Heaven” is slightly better. And, I love the short “vignettes” – “Cello”, because it is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “On Land” played on live instruments and “Visions of La”… because it’s Rachel Goswell, duh. But still, you can’t deny that Brian Eno’s influence has haunted them ever since “Souvlaki”, amirite?

Why can’t I think of anything right now, damn it?!

Ah, who cares. Anyway: after “Pygmalion” was released, as I’ve said, Slowdive were given the boot by Creation Records, so they regrouped as Mojave 3, signed on 4AD and released their first album “Ask Me Tomorrow” the same year. Unfortunately, I only liked one song off that album and that would be the song that gave the title to this blog. Nudge nudge.

That was subjective opinion, of course, but still: “Pygmalion” is one of my personal best records of all time – simply because it sounds beautiful. Might also be that I was acquiring the taste back when I started listening to shoegaze and whatnot – either way, if you ask me if “Pygmalion” was a misstep or a successful album that showed which way Slowdive were bound if they weren’t kicked by Creation… I’ll choose the latter, kthx.

Highlights: “Rutti”, “Crazy for You”, “Miranda”, “Blue Skied an’ Clear”, “All of Us”

Slightly unfortunate lowlights: “Trellisaze”, “J’s Heaven”

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