SPAIN “SARGENT PLACE” - Review

SPAIN “SARGENT PLACE”

Glitterhouse, 2014

7

Regimented, narrowly focused and somehow compelling, bienvenidos a Espana

Since returning from hiatus Josh Haden and Spain have continued on with their slow-motion spirituals, re-treading much the same path as they’d hacked out for themselves. With this record the comeback starts to make sense - there’s been a shift, nothing dramatic, in truth nothing much has changed, but you know how different a face can look with a different haircut even though it is the same face, Spain have had a haircut. Everything works just a little bit better, Haden’s voice has lost some of the baggage, it is lighter with more command; perhaps this is a flush of confidence.

The songs are still hymn like, devotional. ‘In My Soul’ moves inexorably like a huge cargo vessel on a calm sea, the lyrics are repetitive, the same familiar patterns, the same concerns, the same Spain we’ve known and loved. Except, except nothing really, the song is what it needs to be, it isn’t bent to be a Spain song, it is the essence of what they do. The beautiful bass tones that begin ‘You and I’ are courtesy of Charlie Haden, it is a song that finds its peace through hypnotic repetition.

More than most, Spain have relied on a restricted toolset, lyrically and musically they have preoccupations that colour every song. It is the small details, the accretion of them that is important and the moments, the seldom moments where rogue elements creep in, these make the difference. The in and out of tune guitars on ‘Love at First Sight’ sound maverick and the surrender to fuzz and distortion is an untypical move but symptomatic of the slight shifting. There is flirting with more conventional structures - ‘Sunday Morning’ moves like a rock song, one that is using amplifiers; the bass walks and the guitars snap and crackle as Haden rolls out a refrain which sounds dangerously like a hook.

 

Spain are strange - in a way they rely on lyrics that are often full of cliché, and then they repeat the cliché over and over again on top of a blues based structure, and yet, for me, it works. There is real emotion in songs like ‘To Be a Man,’ there’s a lot invested in singing ‘don’t go away’ against a minimal backdrop, it focuses the listener on the nuances, you pick up on the subtle differences. It is complicated in a way that seems extraordinarily simple - that’s the genius of Haden.

David Cowling