Friday, 19 June 2015

50 albums to take to my grave #24: Reading, Writing & Arithmetic


Captivating. There's a word I could use to describe The Sundays. Those shimmering guitars. That voice - oh that voice. I can't help it, I fall for it every time. There was little to prepare us for the beauty and wonder of the Sundays back in 1989. The Smiths were a distant memory and Madchester was about to break loose. Yet, down in Reading, the spirit of Johnny Marr was living on in David Gauvrin while his girlfriend Harriet Wheeler seemed to be channelling Elizabeth Frazer. There was still a place for delicately crafted indie-pop, and the Sundays filled it.

Spellbinding. There's another word I could use, in particular to refer to the debut single Can't Be Sure. When that came out, I was overwhelmed. It's quite simply spectactular, yet for two and a half minutes of its total length (3:15), it remains teasingly restrained. Gauvrin's chorus-laden chimes, Patch's rack-tom rumblings, and Paul Brindley's humming bass underpin Harriet's swooping vocals. Then, finally, it kicks in properly before climaxing a mere 40 seconds later. It's one of the closest things to sheer perfection I've ever heard in pop music.


They weren't just one trick ponies. They had a whole album's worth of delights. When 'Reading, Writing & Arithmetic' saw the light of day in January 1990, it engulfed me - there were 10 bewilderingly beautiful elegies. Skin & Bones is simply hypnotic and is one of David Gauvrin's shining glories. Here's Where The Story Ends is an obvious hit, which is probably why it became one some years later for Tin Tin Out. Harriet makes me swoon on Hideous Towns, especially when she does that "Oh" at the end of the chorus... She also glows on A Certain Someone as she sings "If I could have anything in the world for free / I wouldn't share it with anyone else but me / Except perhaps a certain someone." I'm sure I wasn't the only person wishing he was that certain someone. Oh, and I adore that "oooooh" that comes from nowhere at the end.

My Finest Hour is another fave of mine. Melodically it's one of the strongest songs on the album, and everything just seems to come together. It would have made a cracking closing track. But that honour went to Joy, quite possibly the most aptly-named song in history. It really is a true delight and ends things on a high.

I brought this post forward by a few weeks following a recent discussion on Scott's superb Spool's Paradise. One of the comments, from The Swede, read: "The Sunday's debut LP is a timeless classic in my opinion. At no point since its release has it sounded even slightly tired, dated or out of step." I wondered if there was much point writing this after that - it says it all really. No one ever sounded like the Sundays then, no one sounds like the Sundays now. The songs have undoubtedly stood the test of time. A shame they've been so sporadic with their releases, and as lovely as the other two albums were, they never quite recaptured the joy and gorgeousness of that debut.

I don't believe in Heaven (or Hell, for that matter). Even if I did, I don't think I'll be going "up there", which is a shame as I reckon it would sound like the Sundays.


Oh, entrancing. That's another good word...


Soundtrack:




2 comments:

  1. Thank you for quoting me, but I'm very glad that you did write this piece. I don't think it's possible to say enough good things about 'Reading, Writing & Arithmetic'. Every home should have one.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'No one ever sounded like the Sundays then, no one sounds like the Sundays now. The songs have undoubtedly stood the test of time. A shame they've been so sporadic with their releases, and as lovely as the other two albums were, they never quite recaptured the joy and gorgeousness of that debut'.
    Those 3 sentences, from a wonderfully written review, sum up why Reading, Writing..is such a great album. I listened to the album tonight and it still sounds as good, if not better, than it did upon its release. Always thought of them as the missing link between The Smiths and The Cocteaus and could not agree more that Can't Be Sure is one of the closest things to sheer perfection in pop music. Easily one of the best debut albums ever released by anyone. Cheers also for the mention of Spools, much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete