My love/hate relationship with Detroit-based
Saturday Looks Good to Me is well documented here on EvilSponge.
However, to their credit, I find this band's good songs to be
so very good that I'm always willing to listen to whatever they
release. So, with some trepidation, I took a chance and decided
to get their most recent album, Every Night.
And it was indeed good. In fact. I might venture to say it's very, very good.
The album begins with Since You Stole My Heart, which has a nicely repetitious melody over which a strong backing horn section comes in during the second verse. In the meantime, the female vocalist sings in the manner of an early 60s girl-group refugee. Lyrically, the song backs up this stance with lines like, "I don't know what's come over me since you stole my heart." As an opening, Since You Stole My Heart pretty much sets up the entire album as it focuses on Saturday Looks Good to Me's strengths: clever lyrics, hummable melody, and music that sounds vaguely familiar and comfortable without being derivative.
Similarly, the second song, Until The World Stops Spinning, also harkens
back to a simpler musical time. With its lush instrumentation
and dominating female vocals, it has a vaguely twee element.
However, the vocalist's Neko
Case-esque delivery overcomes what could be a stereotypical
love gone bad tune and instead turns it into a remarkable Indie
Pop song. And, much like the previous song, the lyrics and melody
are compelling enough to insinuate themselves into your brain.
On the next song, the pace picks up a bit as Fred Thomas, the leader and songwriter
of Saturday Looks Good to Me, takes over the vocal duties. With
its reverbed guitars and stop/start pacing, Keep Walking
reminds me of the better songs off the
most recent album by Atlanta's The White Lights. This similarity
is brought home on one of the later tracks called If You
Ask. With an organ, a vibraphone and some dominant drumming,
that song has that haunted prom feel that characterizes the
work of so many Atlanta-based bands. However, to the credit
of Saturday Looks Good to Me, unlike other bands, they manage
to make each song different enough that I'm not left thinking
that everything sounds the same.
Yet the one thing that unifies the album is Fred Thomas's ability to construct a pop song that stays in your head. Admittedly, these components were still present on previous releases. However, in those cases, the production as well as fairly weak vocals worked against the songwriting. In contrast, this time around each note and accent seems distinct as opposed to lost in some sonic mud. Likewise, the singers in general have a forceful delivery that gives the music emotive power that also allows the band to apparently play harder as well.
For me, this point is clearly demonstrated on Dialtone.
Over a simple guitar riff, Thomas begins singing another song
about romance gone horrible awry (and man, do I understand that
theme). As the instruments add in, I am reminded of the best
parts of the Live 2003
disk, when it seemed like the band was just demoing songs before
the music had the life wrung out of it. Furthermore, who can
really resist a song in which the singer points out in a rather
nonchalant voice, "I won't be there on Thursday night, but I
hope you all have fun. You may not notice my absence…" It's
a brilliant combination of songcraft and delivery that makes
Dialtone one of my favorite songs on Every Night.
Still, I have to confess that not everything on this album
is perfect. The last three songs, two of which appear to feature
the older Saturday Looks Good to Me vocalist, suffer from that
same fey quality which marred much of All
Your Summer Songs. For instance, We Can't Work
It Out wastes the harp intro as it turns into a musical
doppelganger of the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale,
albeit with breathy vocals and quieter instrumentation. Similarly,
Lift Me Up has a slightness that pales in comparison
to the demo version found on the Live
2003 CD. Finally, When You Got to New York,
sung by Thomas himself, has a "misadventures in the big city"
theme which was more or less put to bed by Crooked
Fingers on their first album. However, these issues don't
particularly ruin Every Night, especially when
you realize that the previous nine songs are outstanding.
So, Saturday Looks Good to Me has managed to surprise me yet
again. Every Night is more in keeping musically
with All Your Summer
Songs than with the three
song EP they released earlier this year. However,
the fullness of the production and arrangements as well as the
vocal abilities of the singers enhance Fred Thomas's songs.
All of this makes Every Night a wonderful piece
of work, and easily once of the best releases of 2004.