[Today: The Mark Kozelek show...]
The British indie label 4AD was responsible for some of the most interesting music of the 1980’s, and the so-called “4AD sound” was encompassed by the music of Bauhaus, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, and Dead Can Dance. Red House Painters weren’t out of place on the label, but their music had a softer edge than much of 4AD‘s searing guitar experimentation. In 1995, head House Painter Mark Kozelek delivered what was a solo album in everything but name (he even produced it), but the label rejected it after requesting that Kozelek edit some of the album’s longer tracks.
Kozelek was able to negotiate an amicable release from his contract, and started shopping around the music that would become Songs For A Blue Guitar. Island Records’ subsidiary Supreme Recordings picked it up, but when Island was subsequently purchased by WEA, Kozelek’s little record was left to fend for itself. The predictable result: a really fine album that found only a small fraction of the audience it deserved.
Like Neil Young before him, Kozelek proved that the singer-songwriter format needn’t be occupied only by limp-wristed bloviators. Sure, he’s got the nostalgia (“When we were kids, we hated things our parents did/We listened low to Casey Kasem’s radio show”) and the emotional subtext, but he throws a monkey wrench into the formula with both his intense guitar strumming and novel choice of cover material. Songs For A Blue Guitar features nearly unrecognizable versions of songs by Paul McCartney & Wings (‘Silly Love Songs’), Yes (‘Long Distance Runaround’) and The Cars (‘All Mixed Up’) – testaments all to his unique voice and vision.
But the real highlights are Kozelek’s originals. ‘Have You Forgotten’ (quoted above) is reflective and poignant without being corny, ‘Make Like Paper’ has ferocity and fuzz right out of the grunge playbook, and ‘Song For A Blue Guitar’ is just a knockout – the kind of tune that, properly deployed, could get a body laid. Kozelek would go on to make a name for himself as a solo artist by re-interpreting the music of AC/DC and John Denver, and he starred as Stillwater’s bass player in the movie Almost Famous, but his finest hour can be found right here.
Listen: Have You Forgotten
Listen: Song For A Blue Guitar