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Kalyr
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PostSubject: Glass Shadows   Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:50 pm

There's some truth in the idea that you only really judge an album after the release of it's successor. So I've put together some thoughts on Glass Shadows, an album fans seem to have sharply divided opinions about, two-and-a-half years on.

Songwriting-wise it still sounds very solid, and hangs together strongly as a coherent album despite Heather's songs taking a markedly different musical direction from Bryan's. There's no real filler, and material like the much-criticised "Pocket Watch" are mercifully absent. But I feel it does lack the sort of absolute classic song in the league of "Fading Colours" or "Carpe Diem" to lift the album to the next level. "Tearing at the Faerytale" and the lengthy title track do come close though, and Heather's "Unoriginal Sin" really came to life on stage. Indeed, the emotionally-charged live versions were the high point of the first set on the tour, and Live 2009 contains the definitive version of that song.

Only a couple of the songs don't quite work for me. "Fireside" has a really great riff, and builds nicely through the verse and the bridge, but then simply doesn't go anywhere. A pity, because it feels like there's a Mostly Autumn classic somewhere in there trying to get out. "A Different Sky" isn't really a bad song, but just doesn't fit the album at all, which would have been far better ending at "Until the Story Ends". Seeing as the band subsequently released the song as a single, in retrospect perhaps it should have been left of the album?

One downside is that the album that, like Heart Full of Sky it's missing Iain on keys. While Bryan's keyboard playing has it's moments, such as that dramatic extended instrumental section of the title track, much of the keyboard playing is workmanlike rather than exceptional, and there are certainly one or two places where over-simplistic piano parts drag an otherwise good song down. But as well as the keys I also find Bryan's guitar playing a little too mannered. Although he does play a couple of great solos, they're very structured and perhaps a bit too Gilmouresque for comfort. Nowhere does he really cut loose the way we've seen on GWDH, and on earlier albums like "Storms Over Still Waters". It almost feels as if Bryan was neglecting the guitar while he focused on keys.

Overall, it's still a good album, and there's a lot to like about it. I don't think it's anywhere close to the career-defining masterpiece some declared it to be at the time, but I do feel it's a vast improvement on the seriously flawed "Heart Full of Sky". In some ways it's a pity the band weren't as bold in playing as much of the album live during the 2008 tours as they had with "Heart Full of Sky" a year earlier; certainly I'd have loved to have heard the title track performed live.
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HippyDave
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PostSubject: Re: Glass Shadows   Mon Aug 22, 2011 11:49 am

I actually agree with almost everything you've said here, Tim. I was bitterly disappointed with the album at the time it was released, but time has been kind to it, and I do quite enjoy it these days when I dig it out - I just don't dig it out all that often.

The production is great - by far the best production they've had since Passengers (GWDH included). However (and this is where my thoughts differ from Tim's), the album as a whole really is schizophrenic: to the point where it really feels like two completely different albums put in a blender. To me, it feels very much split into the 'Bryan half' and the 'Heather half', and I have to admit that I wasn't in the least bit surprised when Heather announced her subsequent departure. The album feels very much like it's pulling in two totally different directions.

Yes, it definitely suffers from a lack of Iain. Sometimes the very simplicity of the keyboard parts makes it work (Above The Blue being the best example); at other times I could weep at the thought of how Iain's playing could have transformed some of the material (Tearing At The Faerytale and the title track both spring instantly to mind). I don't think any of the songs are clunkers, but I have to admit that I still don't know what all the fuss about Unoriginal Sin is - the lyric is interesting, and I like the vocal 'interjections' but musically it's just a dirge to me. I tend to agree with Tim about Fireside, which in retrospect just seems like a slightly half-hearted warm-up for High. Pretty much everything else is at least enjoyable (yes, even A Different Sky, which I hated at first but now actually really like, though I would agree with Tim that it doesn't really 'fit' on the album). The real gems, for me, are Paper Angels, Flowers For Guns, the title track, Tearing At The Faerytale and Above The Blue.
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Kalyr
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PostSubject: Re: Glass Shadows   Mon Aug 22, 2011 10:33 pm

I think I appreciate "Unoriginal Sin" from having seen it performed live many times; Heather's performances of that song had a very powerful emotional charge. It's got the same sort of charge as some of the darker tracks on Fish's "13th Star", which is heavily referenced in the lyrics. Probably not a coincidence.

What makes Glass Shadows hang together as an album for me is the narrative thread running through the lyrics, both Bryan's and Heather's. Again, it's a case of knowing the back-story and understanding what the songs are about, which isn't obvious if you don't know.
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HippyDave
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PostSubject: Re: Glass Shadows   Tue Sep 13, 2011 12:26 pm

Kalyr wrote:
I think I appreciate "Unoriginal Sin" from having seen it performed live many times; Heather's performances of that song had a very powerful emotional charge. It's got the same sort of charge as some of the darker tracks on Fish's "13th Star", which is heavily referenced in the lyrics. Probably not a coincidence.

You know what I always say: there's no such thing as coincidence Wink.

Kalyr wrote:
What makes Glass Shadows hang together as an album for me is the narrative thread running through the lyrics, both Bryan's and Heather's. Again, it's a case of knowing the back-story and understanding what the songs are about, which isn't obvious if you don't know.

Quite a few of the songs are related in some way (very specifically in some cases) to mortality - hardly a surprise given how badly everyone was affected by Howard Sparnenn's illness and subsequent passing. The subject matter may have had something to do with the accusations I remember reading at the time that the album was overly dark. Personally I find that more than a little ridiculous: the band have always written extensively about the circle of life, birth, death etc, and such material is hardly likely to be comprised of jaunty jigs and feelgood rockers, now, is it? Smile

So yes, I'll concede that there is a thread of sorts running through much of the material. When I talk about the disparate halves of the album, I'm thinking purely musically, where the difference between the two 'sets' of songs is much more apparent. To me, anyway!
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