Following on from the recent news of Grandaddy bassist Kevin Garcia’s passing, we’ll be taking a second look at some of Grandaddy’s finest work. First up is their 2000 masterpiece, ‘The Sophtware Slump’. Widely recognised as the band’s greatest album it’s an ambitious work that sees heady, buoyant indie and stuttering electronica collide with weighty themes and post-Y2K burnout.
Released as the follow-up to their 1997 debut album, ‘Under The Great Western Freeway’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ was a daring, ambitious album; often a statement of intent as much as anything. Opening with the complex 9 minute masterpiece ‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s Pilot’, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ was instantly cast as an album not satisfied to simply deliver good music and nothing more. Here, instead, was an album that wanted to make a grand statement, with an existential widescreen view of the world. In the hands of a lesser band, ‘He’s Simple…’ may come off as a little grandiose, but despite it’s winding eccentricities – or perhaps because of them – the song is a moving, powerful piece and perhaps the single best song the band ever wrote. At the very least, it’s the most ambitious. It’s a song that only further cemented the band’s position as the connoisseur’s indie rock band – Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse once said it was the one song in the world that he most wished he’d written.
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‘He’s Simple…’ may cast a lengthy shadow but it’s not one that ever risks eclipsing the 37 minutes of music that follows. The punchy, immediate Garage Pop of ‘Hewlett’s Daughter’ is quintessential Grandaddy; though effortlessly melodious, there’s a hint of dirt in the chugging palm-muted guitars and buzzing synthesizers but it’s ultimately a song that prizes its pristine hook above all else. The glistening rush of synths on ‘The Crystal Lake’ is likewise so imbued with innate melody that it gives the impression that the band could have written a hit single in their sleep.
Although ‘The Sophtware Slump’ is at its punchiest during it’s most immediate moments, it’s a record that places more importance on the slow-burning, emotionally loaded songs that form the album’s heart. On paper, ‘Jed The Humanoid’s tale of an a once loved, now abandoned, robot drinking himself to death may sound purposefully silly but it in actuality it’s a song delivered with such genuine heart and sadness that the tale becomes a genuinely moving one. Although not a concept album in the strict sense, there’s a thematic consistency to ‘The Sophtware Slump’ that does lend it something approaching a solid narrative. Jed appears once again in ‘Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground)’, a song that borrows the melody of it’s predecessor and sets it to new words – no less melancholic than before – in a sort of bittersweet reprisal that hits like a sonic gut-punch.
Vital to ‘The Sophtware Slump’s success is that its more melancholic moments never feel sign-posted or forced, instead there’s a genuine sense of pathos pervading the album. It’s a tactfully delivered look at depression which comes from a place of mature examination and compassion rather than morbid fascination. ‘Underneath The Weeping Willow’ is perhaps the most emotionally intense moment, front-man Jason Lytle singing of sadness but this time from a first person perspective rather than through the robotic body of Jed.
Never wanting to run the risk of repetition, ‘The Sophtware Slump’ is a varied set of songs both in arrangement and emotional resonance. The scuzzy garage-pop of ‘Broken House Appliance National Forest’ may sit sandwiched between two of the album’s most bittersweet but it’s a defiantly upbeat song with an insistent drive.
‘The Sophtware Slump’ is an album with a maturity that belies the relative youth of the band that created it. It’s a beautiful, profound record that balances real depth with a joy and immediacy that makes it an effortlessly rewarding listen. Spending time with the album in the wake of bassist Kevin Garcia’s passing gives the album a newfound ache but also serves as a triumphant celebration.