This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)

This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)

What makes this Fall record stand head and shoulders above the rest? Certainly it sounds just as vitriolic, spiny, poppy, and artful as the other albums that populate the upper third of this list. How did this one win the race?

For all its stylistic shifts and barmy artistic experiments and MES giddily realizing he can sing about pretty much anything — his freshly bought Salford home, his hatred of Los Angeles, his favorite Can vocalist — this strangely comes away as the band’s most cohesive album.

I think it has very much to do with the creative push-pull happening in the songwriting. The impulses of the songwriters were going in a half-dozen different directions: the pop leanings of Brix, guitarist Craig Scanlon’s art-rock intentions, Steve Hanley’s lateral post-punk, the classically-trained weirdness of newest member Simon Rogers, and, of course, MES’s cut-and-paste rockabilly/garage. Put together, the elements sparked and fizzed and turned into a pulsing, glistening mass of sound.

Rogers’ attempt to write a straightforward rock song emerged as the herky-jerky 6/4 “Spoilt Victorian Child,” and his loopy “Paint Work” became a patchwork pop tune thanks to a wonky cassette recording done by MES. The organ stabs and cyclical bass line of Scanlon’s “What You Need” became a wobbly cart ride down a cobblestone street. Brix slathered on the technopop glitz to give “L.A.” the proper coating of sleaze to match her husband’s disgust with the city. And “I Am Damo Suzuki” stitches together elements from various Can songs in service of a loving portrait of the mercurial singer. Impressively, all these disparate threads and slippery, zig-zagging takes on the “Fall Sound” connect together smashingly. Take one element or track away, and the whole thing would unravel.

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