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Slowdive – Pygmalion

August 14, 2006


All things considered, the way that Slowdive ended their career was fairly unusual and unique. Whether or not it was a good move is a completely different story, but I would like to think that there is something respectable about doing something really different for a final album. A lot of what bands try to do on albums that they know might be their last is try to summarize what they have already done, or cover the styles of their entire career. Or at least follow on in the same genre without switching up the style way too much. But Slowdive played their cards a little differently. I’m pretty sure that their attitudes changed when they knew the band was coming to an end, and yet they still produced a record that was far more individual than it’s predecessors Just For A Day and Souvlaki. It is an enjoyable but slightly inconsistant ambient work that while is not ingenious or groundbreaking like those predecessors, switches it up a little. As a present for the fans, if nothing else. I want to call it a treat, but a treat is what you get when you obey. Pygmalion is a present, that I’m sure of. It’s not that great of a present unless you were expecting it, but a present nonetheless, coming straight from the giver with love.

The mood of the music has changed drastically since Souvlaki, the bands second and most popular studio LP. Souvlaki is basically a Greek shishkabob of meat and vegetables and stuff. I guess I can see where that comes into the music on the album. I want to say that Slowdives music is varied but it really isn’t. It’s all very individual, but it all covers the same amazing flowing tremendous ground. So every song on Souvlaki was delicious, but it was all different. Just covered in the same sauce and on the same stick. Souvlaki is probably one of my favorite albums ever, and it is the perfect album for a rainy Saturday evening. In fact, I make a point to listen to Slowdive whenever it is rainy out at night, and play Mischief Makers for N64 if at all possible. Pygmalion, in case you didn’t know, is a character in Greek mythology who follows an interesting story. Pygmalion was a world famous sculptor, one of the best ever, and he might be a little gay but that is debatable. He creates a statue in the form of a naked woman (what is there to say, the Greeks and Latins were just horny.) and it is so beautiful, so proportionally realistic and gorgeous that he falls in love with it. And where would you expect this story to end? With Pygmalion turning into some kind of flower or bird or something, out of grief for the fact that he can not love his creation.

HOWEVER. The story of Pygmalion as told in Ovid does not end in tragedy like 95% of his stories do. Instead, Aphrodite feels sorry for Pygmalion and his sorrows for not being able to communicate with his beautiful creation. So she turns the statue to life, and the statue is henseforth known as Galatea. They marry happily and the two have a son, named Paphos.

And then what happens? I have no idea. It even sounds a little strange to me that no one dies or is turned into something or is chased off into the woods and violated. The story really has no lesson, and it ends with a somewhat happy conclusion. With all that said, I’m not really sure how the story of Pygmalion has anything to do with the album by Slowdive. Anyway, this album is very ambient, and it sort of does follow in the footsteps of the other albums while really doing something completely different. What is still here is vaguely the same type of songwriting, but what is different is the fact that it is produced and put out in a completely different way. When I first listened to it, I thought to myself, yeah, this is Slowdive. I can hear it. But missing are the soaring and almost tragically beautiful guitars and muscular beat. A lot of what distinguished Slowdives previous work was the fact that it felt very important. Like what was going on was breathtaking, the images were immensely important feeling. But Pygmalion sort of strips that all down. While Slowdive is beautiful in it’s earlier forms, the reason this is interesting is because it doesn’t feel so important. I can’t relax to Souvlaki, unless maybe it’s Machine Gun or Good Day Sunshine, simply because the music is purposefully tense.

A lot of what is on Pygmalion is far more electronic and relaxing. There are no longer layers of guitars and feedback like before, and instead of that soaring stuff, we now have a homier piece. It sounds like Slowdive without all the intensity, and the electronic touch really brings out the songwriters intentions well. What they are able to do with synthesizers is interesting to say the least. But what the album doesn’t do very good is keep structure. The entire thing is a little flimsy as far as the flow of the album goes as things sort of switch up a lot, but it generally keeps the more quiet and relaxing feel. I guess what I’m trying to say is, one of my few complaints is the fact that the tracks weren’t sequenced well enough.

But there are a lot of treats to be found here. Rutti is one of the best songs the band ever wrote, and while it is a little different, it stays very ambient and relaxing and floaty. It’s a long and extremely satisfying venture that changes as it goes along and it does pretty well in it’s sequence in comparrison to the rest of the album. It’s a great track to open the entire thing. And it is very long, ten minutes actually, so fans should be very happy with the delivery. The next song, Crazy For You, is pretty good as well and is known by Slowdive fans to be one of the better songs on this album. The instrumentation is fantastic, and it would probably be the best song on the album if not for the aggrivating layered vocals that kind of ruin the experience a tad. But once again, the instrumentation is cool enough to make it a good song.

And then there is a contrast. The next song is called Miranda and from a standpoint that the previous song forcasts, it is very different and disturbing. I rented the movie Identity before I listend to this song for the first time. It hit me, this song should have been in that movie. The psychological creep is exactly fitting. Miranda is rather beautiful, but only so much. It’s very creepy, and is what you would expect to hear in any thriller in the downtime between when people are getting picked off by a killer. Trellisaze is pretty bad, it has a great synth line that is ruined by completely out of place beats and sound effects. Then there is Cello which is pretty interesting. It almost calls out to the listener in a somber way. This track is truly Slowdive in it’s most stripped down form, only really featuring synthesizers. You can easily immagine guitars piled on top of the notes with a strong beat like many other Slowdive songs, and however they are not. It is lonely, yet beautiful, and it really makes you wonder, even if it is only a short blurb.

J’s Heaven is another track that is pretty good, and if it isn’t it breaks even. It creates an atmosphere pretty well, and also features a psychological creep that this time isn’t quite as encroaching as Miranda. And then comes Visions of La, another little blurb much like Cello, but this time it is a lovely little melancholy spanish guitar piece. Blue Skied ‘An Clear probably catches the mood of the album best, in it’s ambient synthesizers and relaxing vocals and sound effects, with a soft beat to carry it all home. It is very relaxing and dreamy and is easily the best track on the album. And then the album ends with All Of Us, a serene yet sad song that while is not overly ingenious, is very good and does the band justice considering it is the last song released on the bands last album.

So how good is Pygmalion? …In retrospect, it isn’t really THAT great, but it is good. When I think about it, the casual listener probably won’t like this at all, but that doesn’t stop this disk from being flat out good. So if you weren’t a rabid fan of this kind of music, like of Slowdive or ambient stuff, you would probably give this a rating somewhere in the fives. If you are a fan of ambient music or Slowdive like me, you would probably put this somewhere in the eights. So it’s a compromise. I really wanted to rate this somewhere in the eights too, but I realize I sort of can’t if I want to be fair.

But you also need to keep in mind that this is a very rare album. Not that many copies were made. I won’t say how, but one of the reasons I listen to so much music is because I have connections to every single library in the country and all of their CDs. Guess what? Not one library in the entire country had this album. So that is just something you need to think of. But if you really consider yourself a fan of Slowdive, and I myself do, then this is extremely worth it. It’s a collectors item, so the ultimate price that any real fan of the music would have to pay is twenty five to thirty dollars on ebay or amazon for this rare LP. Or the effort it takes to borrow this from someone. To be quite honest, fans of Slowdive really NEED to track this down by whatever means they can.

All in all, it is probably the least well structured and well written of all of Slowdives albums, and it is a difficult listen at first, but considering the flack it got when it came out ten years ago, this really isn’t a bad album. But you should really only listen let alone buy this if you love Slowdive or if you are a really hardcore ambient fan. The smooth electronic themes and great production on this album really speak to the right listener, and while it does not have the same heartfelt and beautiful mood of previous Slowdive albums, it may actually be an even more suitable album for the night. As long as there is some rain anyway.

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