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4.6 out of 5 stars
33
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 23 July 2017
A stunning album. Haunting and poignant. If you loved 'Good Morning Spider' you should be sure to enjoy this. Brings home the tragedy of the demise of this true genius.
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on 6 July 2017
It's a wonderful LP.. !!
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on 26 May 2017
A stunning album which takes you into another dream like world. Recommended
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on 14 June 2001
Forget about the hype surrounding the new releases from Radiohead and REM (impressive as they are): the summer's must have album comes from a little known band by the name of Sparklehorse.
Sparklehorse are not really a band as such. They are, essentially, singer/songwriter Mark Linkous & Friends making music that by turns feels drowsy and intensely awake. Sadly, they have always been overlooked.
Until now that is. Cue a little help on album number three from Linkous' friends - Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Nina Persson, Dave Fridmann - and Sparklehorse may yet be rescued from obscurity.
This album is a curious blend of country and rock. The trademark growl of Waits on the thumpy Dog Door, and Harvey's static-electric vocals on the radio-friendly Piano Fire, are obvious highlights.
Polly Harvey shows again on Eyepennies - a gorgeous piano melody. The blaring King of Nails is in contrast to its predecessor, Apple Bed, in which Linkous sings sadistically like a man possessed.
Linkous' dark, poetic lyrics and unmistakable sound have earned Sparklehorse lots of friends in the music industry. It can only be a matter of time before the record-buying public click on.
If any band deserves attention, it's Sparklehorse. A fragile genius, mainman Linkous has created an album like no other this year. On those grounds alone you should add it to your collection.
Gary Flockhart, Scotland Online
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on 12 June 2001
Sparklehorse return after a long hiatus following 1998's classic 'Good Morning Spider', an album which forever cemented their reputation as the frazzled kings of Alt Country and assured their place in the hearts of the lo-fi nation. While this new joint ain't really that much of a departure from the previous two records, the mood is certainly more relaxed and optimistic - avoiding the intense, almost opressive aura of before. This probably has a lot to do with Linkous being clean for the recording, the opening and closing lullabies of 'Its a Wonderful Life' and 'Babies on the Sun' recall the parallel approach of 'vivadixie...', capturing the melancholy sensibility and pathos of before but with more pronounced hope. Elsewhere on the album Linkous introduces a host of collaborators into the fray with the likes of Nina Perrson (Cardigans), PJ Harvey, and Tom Waits contributing vocals and in Waits case (on the neurotic, beck-like 'Dog Door') co-writing credits. If you are expecting a change of musical direction from Linkous on this record, you will be disappointed, however if you are still spellbound by the lush melancholy, fractured melody, and the vuneranable, heartbreaking, yet inevitably joyful tracts of Linkous' lyrical spells, or if you are curious and willing to sample something a bit leftfield of the established indie/alternative axis, then lap it up and feel the pain (birds).
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How does one follow up a modern indie classic, such as Sparklehorse's "Good Morning Spider"? In the case of "It's a Wonderful Life," they just keep on going. This album is more mellow and polished, but Mark Linkous's songs still ring with melancholy indiepop and fuzzy rock.

The title track sets the tone for the rest of the album: A soft guitar melody, with faint bubbles and chirps lurking behind it. The nonsensical lyrics can't hide the melancholy in Linkous's voice, which lets up a little in the soft, sweet flute ballad "Gold Day." "In silver piles of smiles/may all your days be gold/my child," Linkous sings fondly.

At first listen the songs sound very much alike. But repeated listens reveal little nuances -- the intimate cadences of Linkous's voice, fuzzy rock riffs, violins, a pretty piano melody. "More Yellow Birds" is particularly pretty, with its hesitant singing and swelling string arrangements. Linkous sounds almost painful in this song.

Fortunately Sparklehorse has not lost its experimental edge here, even though the experiments sometimes fail. For example, "Dog Door" is a mess of hoarse vocals and a thumpy rock sound that degenerates into fizzing and wild feedback. The fifteen-minute finale, "Babies on the Sun," is more palatable: a slightly eerie ambient buildup to a solemn guitar ballad.

Musically, Sparklehorse has almost no flaws -- the musicianship of this album is almost perfect, and the strange lyrics give it the quality of a dream. It's not music that sounds in any way normal. Instead it feels like a sonic painting of Mark Linkous's psyche, with all the love, pain, sorrow and beauty that can be expressed in words.

None of the songs make conventional sense. No my-girlfriend-left-me-and-life-sucks songs. Instead Linkous strings together colorful phrases about circus people, ghosts, dogs that ate birthday cakes, and skinny wolves. And he has the occasional moment of sheer brilliance: "Can you feel the wind of venus on your skin?/San you taste the crush of a sunset's dying blush?"

String arrangements in rock music are getting more and more common, but they are rarely put to such brilliant use as in "It's a Wonderful Life," right alongside odd chimes, mellow acoustic guitar and some very slow piano. It seems tailor-made for Linkous's oddball vocals, which might sound weird if he didn't always seem so sad and pensive.

Sparklehorse's "It's a Wonderful Life" is an enchantingly polished follow-up to their outstanding sophomore album. It bewitches, and transports you away. Not to be missed.
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on 11 June 2001
In 1996 Mark Linkous (the man behind Sparklhorse) caused serious injury to himself by way of electrocution, although this didn't prevent him from appearing at that years Reading festival in a wheel chair, or producing on of the most innovative albums of that year. This album continues where Vivadixie..., Good Morning Spider, and Distorted Ghost Ep left off, and does not disappoint.
Initially Sparklehorse were championed by REM frontman Michael Stipe, but have sinced been joined by a futher number of celebrity bandwagon-jumpers. Heard here are PJ Harvey, Tom Waits and Nina Persson (Cardigans) and John Parish. Its A Wonderful Life sounds fantastic, Marks voice is perhaps more distinct, and you get swept along in a torent of crazy lyrics ("Circus People with hairy little hands!"), lush string arrangements, Lo-Fi style techniques, and a sense of melancholy.
If you like Eels, Grandaddy, and the like, this is definately worth investigating...
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on 11 June 2001
Being a big Sparklehorse fan, I was expecting this album to be excellent. I was certainly more than satisfied. What the listener can expect to hear is yet another eclectic mix of back-to-basics pop genius, namely in "Comfort Me" and "Apple Bed", but the lo-fi surrealism of "Gold day" and "Babies in the sun" may come as a bit of a shock. The Sparklehorse sound is pushed to it's limits, but that was the whole reason behind Mark Linkous' brilliance - he always knows just how far he can push the sound - how far he has to take it in order to achieve perfection. So, quelle surprise, this album is another wonderful LP. Other bands could do well to follow Linkous' example.
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on 10 April 2002
I went out on a limb and bought this based on great reviews and mentions of Mercury Rev (Dave Fridmann production) influences. I was rewarded, it's sensational but more Neil Young (More Yellow Birds) than the Rev (Gold Day). Gold Day is wonderful, Piano Fire is a favourite and would make a great single. Apple Bed and Eyepennies are the choice ballads.
Melancholic but inspiring. You can really lose yourself in this. I give four stars as I have heard better albums, just not that many. I'm off to catch up and get hold of Linkous' back catalogue.
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on 8 June 2001
"It's a Wonderful Life" is the best album yet by a band that was supposed to crash and burn years ago. This album is a revelation: The whole thing sounds timeless. This is the work of an enlightened man. "Eyepennies" is brilliant, shot into the atmosphere by PJ Harvey's flashes of vocal brilliance. Elsewhere, Linkous sounds like what I would imagine Elvis Costello would sound like now if he hadn't started becoming a cabaret act (not meant as a jab at the king, mind you, but you get the idea). All in all, anyone who feels that Radiohead's brand of machination is too cold but still enjoy the thrill of pushing the sound envelope should check out "It's a Wonderful Life"--life affirming without being trite, experimental without being alienating, and perfect from now on.
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