6:00 AM GMT 22/06/2011
Country-folk masterwork from the Byrd who was afraid of flying.
History can be a cruel and merciless beast. Gene Clark, a tall, shy folk singer from Missouri, knew that only too well. When he quit The Byrds in the spring of 1966, he left in his wake a run of self-penned hit singles - Eight Miles High and I Feel A Whole Lot Better among them - that catapulted the folk collective from West Hollywood scenesters to international stars. He'd spent less than two years as the group's mop-topped, songwriting spine, before internal squabbling and an unshakeable fear of flying prompted his hasty exit. He was just 21 years old. Like Brian Jones, Clark battled with demons (alcohol, drugs, depression) throughout his life, but in contrast to his friend in the Stones, he made it out the '60s alive, going on to produce a handful of bewitching solo albums that are still yet to receive the acclaim they deserve.
On its release in 1974, No Other barely scrapped into the American top 200, its preoccupation with Zen-mysticism and ambitious Nashville-esque arrangements jarring with Clark's core country-folk crowd and failing to meet the rock community's more outré demands (despite the lavish artwork). Once again he seemed unable to keep up with the times. But with hindsight No Other is his most complete work. A large, sprawling set of songs that succeeds in delivering the "cosmic American music" that Gram Parsons spent his final years searching for, but ultimately failed to find. The title track is a super-cooled synth hymn to inner reflection with Clark's disembodied vocal delivering such soul-searching epithets as, "then the pilot of the mind must find the right direction" and "all alone we must be part of one another".
The album's two love songs, Lady Of The North and From A Silver Phial, are also propelled by this quest for spiritual calm - the latter a west coast ballad bravely wrestling the line, "said she saw the sword of sorrow sunken in the sand of searching souls". By the time he came to record these songs Clark had ditched Hollywood, for the quieter confines of Mendocino, Northern California where he surrounded himself with a maverick producer (Thomas Jefferson Kaye) and a stellar selection of session players who were more in step with the new, meditative Clark. "Have you seen the old world dying?" he asks amid the minimal, acoustic bliss of Silver Raven. Certainly Gene Clark had seen his former self disappear at the dog end of the 1960s but despite his efforts ultimately, he would never fully recover from No Other's commercial failure. What should have been his crowning moment, proved to be his undoing. Once a Byrd always a Byrd it seems. But Gene Clark left us so much more.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 6:00 AM GMT 20/04/2009
Gene Clark – White Light (A&M, 1971)
The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn! (Columbia, 1965)
Jackson Browne – The Pretender (Asylum, 1976)