Sunday, October 10, 2004

Them, Again

'"Angry" Young Them' vs. 'Them Again'

If you read up on these two fine, fine records, the normal consensus is that the later is but a pale shadow of the former. Them was falling apart, due to it's world class asshole front man, a horrible touring schedule, and crumbling finances... A rag tag bunch of session men and pickup musicians stood in for the rock solid band on the first record. I'm listening to these recordings almost four decades after the fact, and I can't help but think the second record is better.

To these ears, both bands sound identical, the production is of equal quality on both records, and there isn't a whole hell of a lot of difference in the way Van is singing. How anyone can think there is a noticeable drop off in quality is mystifying, and probably bullshit. The second record has a few tracks that put me to sleep or have me scrambling to the tonearm to skip; 'I Put A Spell On You' has an irritating saxophone that sounds like the background music for a jazz bar in a second rate cop show, and some downright embarrassing scat vocal mannerism from Van. 'Don't You Know' violently forces my eyelids shut, maybe it's a fault of the sequencing, 'Hey Girl' is the far more interesting of the two, back to back songs, and 'Don't You Know' brings to mind the more abstract Warner Brother's Cartoons jazz backing. But the highlights on 'Them Again', are untouchable, my favorite version of 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', (Byrds don't even get close, and it still manages to beat out the almighty Elevators), the ringing chords on 'Could You Would You' and 'My Lonely Sad Eyes', and the only song to out-savage the proto punk masterpiece 'Gloria', the equally good, if not better 'I Can Only Give You Everything'. As for it's predecessor, the highlights are there 'If You And I Could Be As Two', the classic 'Gloria', the doom laden 'I'm Gonna Dress In Black', and 'My Little Baby', with it's incredible backup vocals and stop/start dynamism. What else do you get? The overrated 'Mystic Eyes', three very similar repetitive blues 'Little Girl', 'Just A Little Bit', and 'I Like it Like That'. Yeah, sure, they are, uh, fine and sufficient and acceptable, but they are completely interchangeable, and the songwriting is far better on the second record, where even the missteps are actual songs, not just a few riffs and Morrison belting out Blues cliches. The record closes with a disappointing 'Route 66', which is a respectable version, but no better or worse then the dozens of other covers of the same tune.

All this doesn't matter a lick of course, most people (rightfully so) bought the double disc set, which features both records in their entirety, with singles tracks (and what great singles they are, 'Richard Cory', 'Here Comes The Night', and 'The Story Of Them') and like I said before, there isn't much of a noticeable difference between the first and second record. It all sounds very cohesive compiled together. But I'm hungover, and have nothing better to do than sip coffee and expound on not especially important musical subjects to an infathomably small audience of people I have never met before.

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