Hunted, cheated, battered and bleeding. What did I ever do to you?
I should hope not. And I don't think it's so -- I mean, I'll always look at any new Paul McCartney album with a harshly critical eye, and while I don't think We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is the worst thing Modest Mouse ever did, the addition of Johnny Marr didn't really make me a fan. I'd prefer another Electronic album, but... whatever. I can also be tough on Ocean Colour Scene, but as I've said before... hardcore OCS fans are allowed to be...
But I raise this theoretical question because it seems like I really found myself in a minority when John Squire released his first solo album, Time Changes Everything in 2002 and I said I liked it. Six years later, I still like it. I don't think it's the greatest thing ever and is hardly a patch on the Stone Roses' debut, but... I also still seem to be the only guy besides the dude who put together the John Squire Unofficial website that will admit to digging it.
Sure, the argument is there that I could be an apologist -- you ask me what the greatest guitar solo ever is, and I'll say, "I don't know, but John Squire played it" and then refer you to the toss up between the solo in "She Bangs the Drums" and the extended outro of "Waterfall." I'm not a big guitar solo dude. I like melody and harmony, but those two pieces of fretwork always blow me away. Probably because they sound more like someone figured out how to play a sunny day on a guitar instead of just taking a few bars to showoff.
But even though I also love Second Coming, I'm aware of its faults. And Squire's coke problem was probably as much a reason for the Roses demise as Brown's preference for years-long marijuana-fuelled chill out sessions. And the way Squire left the band was kind of uncool. And the Seahorses were pretty grossly overindulgent with too few tunes to back up the bravado.
But can we really write off Time Changes Everything because of Squire's voice? I think not, and in this blog's proud tradition of reevaluating albums that were hardly given a first chance, today we put Squire's solo debut back on the talking point.
Time Changes Everything
North Country, 2002
01. Joe Louis
02. I Miss You
03. Shine a Little Light
04. Time Changes Everything
05. Welcome to the Valley
06. 15 Days
07. Transatlantic Near Death Experience
08. All I Really Want
09. Strange Feeling
Before we get into the oft-unfulfilling guts of the album, let's travel back in time to early 2002 for a second, shall we? Sentimentality for Madchester is at an all time high thanks to the hot new British film "24 Hour Party People" which follows the story of Tony Wilson and Factory Records, introduces a whole new generation to Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays and even proves to get a strong cult following in America, where British cinema that ISN'T "Trainspotting" or "The Full Monty" usually falls flat.
In England, Stone Roses sentimentality is running high as every "best albums" poll that a British music-related magazine can (and do... too often) run is putting the Roses eponymous debut in the Top 3 of all time, if not at #1 (which is where it often places). The likes of Mojo and Q are running retrospectives on the Roses rise and demise, asking the where are they now questions of John Squire and Reni and asking louder than ever about a reunion possibility.
Mani, of course, is earning his keep as Primal Scream's bassist, and Ian Brown -- the dude everyone had pegged to fall on his face after the Roses breakup in 1996 -- is off the back of Music of the Spheres, which has produced yet ANOTHER hit single for arguably the most famous frontman that really never could sing, "F.E.A.R."
But aside from a halfhearted attempt to get back into music, Reni (the one Rose that really could sing... and also drum like no one before or since) continues to be MIA.
And Squire? Well... everyone expected the world of Squire. Leaving the Roses by fax, starting a new band that was an anagram for HE HATES ROSES, picking a busker off the street to be his new band's lead singer and... f*cking that all up entirely, karmic "just desserts" seemed to be the way most fans felt about the Seahorses floundering attempt at Britpop superstardom.
After that, Squire was rumored to be part of a band with products of the most recent Verve breakup, Simon Jones and Simon Tong, but that never fleshed out, and although putting ads out for musicians for a new project in the NME, Squire seemed to disappear into that territory that his former drummer inhabited.
So when the Roses revisionism started to hit its fever pitch and John Squire comes out with his first solo album, featuring -- mind you -- a Pollack-ed cow skull on the cover, lyrical allusions to his former band and former singer and a voice that was his and not some dude pulled from in front of a megastore, there was fair reason to be excited. And Squire played up to it.
Just one thing -- no one had ever heard him sing.
Imagine Bob Dylan doing a John Lennon impression with laryngitis... and you start to get the idea. It's not William Hung-off key crap, it's just also, not wholly pleasurable. It's an acquired taste and the fact that you can find as many people that disavow any Dylan music because of his voice alone as you will Dylan worshippers didn't work in his favor.
And it makes for a jarring first listen. It's almost kind of tragic, really. I remember returning to my dorm room sophomore year at Marquette to see the album had arrived, excitedly running up to my room, pronouncing to my roommate Steve that the new John Squire had arrived (Steve didn't have a f*cking clue who I was talking about) and turning the volume WAY up.
And at first, there's no reason not to throw your fist in the air. The tumbling intro of "Joe Louis" is some kind of rock and roll euphoria that even made Steve pull his attention away from his computer for a few seconds and go, "Oh, this is cool." Then the vocals kicked in and Steve got a look on his face not too far from the one Tom Hanks made in "Big" the first time he tried caviar.
As non-vocally prejudiced as anyone can claim to be, the fact of the matter is that it's hard to look past Squire's vocals. They're high in the mix and they're undoubtedly distracting from the great musical backdrop that's being painted behind them. So if you don't like them or can't grow to tolerate them, it will be a breaking point for you. Many, of course, would find it ironic that Squire cited Ian Brown's never-really-there-yet-still-diminishing vocal ability as a cheif reason for faxing the Roses his resignation.
But like caviar, Squire's voice can prove to be an acquired taste, and if you're able to, then the album gets interesting. An olive branch is held out to Ian Brown very cautiously in "I Miss You" and Squire knew exactly what he was doing by using the lyrics to "Fools Gold" as his jumping off point for "15 Days." The problem is that neither song is anywhere near as good as anything the Roses did.
Since most journalists were quickest to cite those songs and start speculation of impending reunion, people can be forgiven for skipping right over to those two, being unimpressed and promptly heading down to CD Exchange.
But six years on, "Shine a Little Light" still knocks me over the way it did the first time I listened to it with wide-eyed wonderment. Listen not only to the vivid, one-great-line-after-another lyric, but the electric guitar that weaves throughout. The "Through the long nights that followed..." bridge with it's doubled guitar/"doo doo doo" backing vocal is as good a musical concoction as ANYTHING he'd done and his simple, straightforward delivery really worked for his singing voice. If there's one reason to give the album another spin, it's this song, since it was befuddlingly never put out as a single.
Elsewhere, "All I Really Want" and "Sophia" are earnest love songs that might border on being trite, but get away on good faith, if not a bit of charm. The title track and "Strange Feeling" also have their intriguing bits, but they never really percolate to a level that will hold your attention. And despite a cool title, "Transatlantic Near Death Experience" really offers nothing more.
As a first solo album, it was underwhelming -- even I, a Squire fan will admit that. But it has a lot more moments peppered throughout than it was ever given credit for, and probably ever will be. His 2004 follow-up, Marshall's House was a lot better as a whole, but coupling a pompous idea (basing every song off an Edward Hopper painting) with another LP full of THAT voice didn't appeal to even the most die hard Roses fans and since then, Squire's focused full time on painting.
It's too bad, really. Not only because we've lost that guitar, but also because in spite of not having the best pipes ever to come out of Manchester, he's always had formidable songwriting chops. Listen to "Joe Louis." I mean, really. Take it in. It's actually a pretty great f*cking song.
Labels: John Squire