Tuesday, November 13th, 2007
Make A Plan
In hindsight, the pressure must have been unbearable. Saturday Looks Good To Me’s 2004 release Every Night was one of my favourite albums of the last however many years and I can only imagine this knowledge must have have been an enormous burden on bandleader Fred Thomas as he worked on a follow-up. Normally prolific to Pollard-ian degrees, Thomas’ output diminished to a trickle over the last three years with only limited-edition singles and a compilation of demos and unreleased tracks to break the studio silence.
Updates from SLGTM-land were sporadic – at one point Thomas said the new record was going to be a double-album split between “he said” and “she said” songs. He also mentioned he was wary of being pigeonholed by the band’s Motown/retro-pop aesthetic, a move that was backed up by the live band’s pared-down lineup and rougher, more rock-heavy sound. These shows also reinforced his intention to sing all the songs on the new record himself – and for all of his strengths as a songwriter and producer, Thomas isn’t a great singer. So needless to say, anticipation for the new record was tempered by no small amount of trepidation.
Which brings us to Fill Up The Room – the fruits of Thomas’ long-gestated, deconstructed and rebuilt Saturday Looks Good To Me and… it sounds like Saturday Looks Good To Me. Somehow, the new record maintains much of what made the previous records special – the time capsule production, the razor-sharp pop sensibility – and yet there’s something definitely different about it. It’s as though all the musical experimentation and exploration that Thomas did over the past few years led him to the Confucian/Banzai-ian epiphany that no matter where he went, there he was and no matter what he did, it was going to sound like himself. So fuck it.
True to his word, he handles vocals on ten of the eleven tracks (the other is sung by Betty Marie Barnes, who made Every Night such a delight) and while he strains to hit a note or five, he sounds better than I’d have expected over the course of the whole record. Having one singer throughout does bring a greater sense of consistency and continuity to the affair and helps Fill Up The Room come off more like a proper album rather than a kick-ass mix tape. There are fewer horns, less obvious Motown nods and the arrangements zig into sprawl where once they’d have zagged into compactness but there’s no mistaking this for anything but a Saturday Looks Good To Me record, and not only that, a great one. Fears allayed. Joy commencing.
AllMusic asked Thomas five questions, including whether this was deliberately a more “mature” record and why he opted to sing everything on this one (with a surprisingly pragmatic answer).
And The National’s tourmate in Europe right now, Hayden, has announced details of his new record – In Field & Town is out January 15 and he’ll be touring Canada in support thereafter, including a February 19 date at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. Chart has full tour dates and album deets.
The Asbury Park Press checks in with proud Jersey girl Nicole Atkins, who explains why the release of Neptune City was delayed three months – Rick Rubin said so. Atkins is at Lee’s Palace next Sunday night and be sure to check out her latest MySpace blog, which recounts her week from playing Letterman the day of the album’s release to starting off the current tour with The Pipettes (who talk to The Boston Globe). Hilarious stuff.
The AV Club lists off “21 Good Albums That Could Have Been Great EPs”. I beg to differ on New Adventures In Hi-Fi and Urban Hymns – maybe a couple songs could have been excised but by no means were there only five our six worthy songs on either record. Most of the others, though, I have no argument.