Gene ClarkNo Other
Released 1974 on Asylum
Reviewed by Graveyard Poet, 26/03/2011ce
While there are many candidates for the two aforementioned art forms (Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller could be the quintessential cinematic distillation of the American dream gone awry) and perhaps they have still not appeared, the great American album does exist.
Its title is apt. It is No Other from native Missouri son Gene Clark.
No Other is the hidden gem of that decade of malaise (the 1970s) when the dreams of the 1960s faded, created in synchronicity with that watermark year of 1974: the year of the greatest tornado outbreak in American history, the year of the big oil shakedown, the year of Watergate and Nixon's resignation (America's divided collective psyche incarnate), the year America is still stuck in, stagnating, as it stays frozen economically at the same levels of income inequality while the price of living continues to climb due to rampant inflation, as the Boomer generation's post-'60s "Culture Wars" continue to bitterly divide, as the nation refuses to open its eyes to the energy crisis.
Not only is No Other an artifact of this time which still haunts America, it is also a nostalgic looking back to an America which might never have existed in the first place. It is a paean to a lost age of innocence, recorded in a genre-defying and spiritual rush (the same rush as Astral Weeks, Spirit of Eden, Lazer Guided Melodies, A Storm in Heaven).
What makes No Other so powerful is not only its much maligned "louder than God" Thomas Jefferson Kaye out-Walling the Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound production, its top session musicians of L.A., its vast supreme soul singer backup vocals (which transfigured the recordings of Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, the Stones ca. Exile on Main St., Floyd ca. Dark Side/Wish You Were Here and elevated them to transcendence).
It is Gene Clark laying his soul bare. A misunderstood Missouri man who briefly experienced the rock star fame of youth (the Byrds) and then retreated from the limelight, who was always dying from physical pain and abuse of his body through alcohol and other substances which could free him from this mortal coil.
From the celestial country music of opener "Life's Greatest Fool" with its wise and world-weary observations "Formed out of pleasure/Chiseled by pain" & "Children laugh and run away/While others look into the darkness of the day" to the poetic and poignant closer "Lady of the North", containing one of the greatest guitar solos of all time at the end, soaring heavenward straight to the eye of God, this truly is the great American album.