Reviewed by Paul Baker
This was Sixpence's third and possibly best album, re-released and repackaged here for the Authentic Classics series. And yes, this is the one with THE single that became the soundtrack to everybody's summer back in 1998. Those that bought the album expecting more of the sun-kissed rosy glow of "Kiss Me" were surprised by the bitter-sweet angst that characterises the rest of the album. Long time fans expecting more of the alt-rock of 'This Beautiful Mess' were also wrong-footed by a decidedly mellower experience. This reflected the band's mental state at the time. Legal and artistic wranglings with their record company had left the band plagued by insecurities and wandering a creative desert. Matt Slocum's achievement was to weave these experiences into delicately textured lyrics, as on "We Have Forgotten" ("Dreams, inconsistent angel things/Horses bred with star-laced wings/But it's so hard to make them fly"). Even on the most bitter song, "Anything", we see the heart of a poet desperate not to prostitute his talents ("This is my 45th depressing tune/They're looking for money as they clean my artistic womb"). But part of the album's appeal is that there is always a gentle hope mixed in with the brow-beating, whether it be about artistic freedoms or, as on many songs, a striving for personal intimacy. Their faith, while sometimes hidden, is also sometimes clearly apparent, as with the intriguing imagery of spiritual awakening in "Love". This is their most ambitious work; bubbling synths, jangly guitars and even hurdy-gurdy are layered in with sweeping, sometimes turbulent strings, while Leigh Nash's plaintive soprano moves from a little girl lost to anguished wail. The whole is rather like a soundtrack to an American odyssey. It's not quite the salient experience many thought at the time. Slocum's arrangements, while well realised, go nowhere that remarkable, and the constant warm, soft sounds can leave the album drifting towards the dull, especially near the end. But while it may not push the boundaries, it succeeds as a sad, happy, often enchanting road trip, and remains a perfect summer album.
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