They blend acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pianos and synths in a uniquely atmospheric fashion. Their songs often flick from grunge guitars, to melodic pianos and off into space age synths in just a few seconds, but it never feels wrong. The songs always seem to have a very definite flow and they rarely lose the listener in a mash of sounds. Tying all this together are some of the most wonderful lyrics ever penned. There are no love songs or tales of teenage angst here, instead you get songs that conjure up visions of ship-wrecked astronauts and sitting on a veranda having a beer and strumming on a six-string. Take the opening few lines of track 9:
“Go progress chrome
They paint the moon today
Some brand new future colour”
It’s original stuff and much more interesting than hearing someone yawn on about how they can’t live without a certain girl/boy.
People who have heard that one of Grandaddy’s biggest influences is ELO maybe put off by this idea; I know a lot of Grandaddy fans reject this statement outright, but I’m afraid it’s true. Don’t panic though, as someone who was brought up with ELO during the 70’s I can assure you we’re not talking ‘Mr Blue Sky’ or ‘Last Train to London’ here. In fact it’s ELO’s 1980 space opera ‘Time’ that seems to have had the most lasting impact on Grandaddy’s song-writing, but it’s fairly subtle. An odd riff or chord that sounds familiar or a few lyrics that are reminiscent of ‘The Rain is Falling’. If you’ve only heard ELO’s chart releases you’ll never notice.
Most people will be drawn in by the rocky ‘AM180’ with its ice cream van siren signalling one of the most distinctive intros ever, but patience reveals this is an album with incredible depth and character. The same goes for their second proper studio album ‘The Sophtware Slump’, which continues the themes established here (only even more space aged) without sounding rehashed.
So give ‘Under the Western Freeway’ a try, you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
The songs are constructed not only of hypnotic melodies, but lyrics which deal with pre- and post-millenial angst, the uneasy, but bizarrely happy, marriage of technology and nature, and the belief that the world has never been further out of our control. In the hands of anyone else, this stuff would be clumsily, embarassingly post-modern nonsense, but in the hands of this one band, it's like music from an alternate reality.
Grandaddy: doing something strangely right.
It begins with nonphenomenal lineage which sets the scene for the rest of the album and for Grandaddy's overall sound. AM180 is then a surprise as it is quite literally a pop tune, although not one like you have ever heard before.
The title track is possibly the most relaxing, beautiful piece of music you are ever likely to hear, complete with bumblebee. It is hard to pick a favourite as the album is packed with minor classics.
The overall appeal of this album is its obvious musical integrity and overwhelming sense of peace that seems to surround it. You can fall asleep to it, put it on as background music and jump about to it. It all seems to wrapped up in a kind of 'fuzziness', for want of a better word, that can only really be described as essentially summery.
Buy it and never let it go.
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