Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Album Review: Just Like The Fambly Cat

In January, after ten years, four albums and citing the reliable stand-by of 'irreconcilable differences', Grandaddy decided to call it a day. However, despite announcing their break-up, the band decided to record Just Like The Fambly Cat as their swansong. The result is an album that, due to its variety, is the perfect distillation of the Grandaddy experience - so much so that it could easily be a greatest hits package, were it not for the fact that all of the songs are new.

Beginning with a gentle piano refrain, Just Like The Fambly Cat opens with the same sadness and trepidation that one should expect for the final installment of Grandaddy's musical odyssey, but from thereon in the band run the gamut of their sound. So, while there's plenty of invention, many of the tracks pay homage to songs previously released by the band.

In fact, Jason Lytle and his band even retreat as far back as their relatively obscure, lo-fi debut, A Pretty Mess By This One Band, on Skateboarding Saves Me Twice, Jeez Louise is the perfect pop song with which the band made their name and easily the equal of A.M. 180 from their sublime full-length debut, Under The Western Freeway, and Elevate Myself too recalls the funky, fuzzed-out soundscapes of their full-length debut. Summer... It's Gone, meanwhile, is the forlorn cousin of their 1997 breakthrough single, Summer Here Kids. If that single marked Grandaddy's arrival, then Summer... It's Gone is, perhaps the perfect farewell.

Last year's Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla, with its emocore leanings, was an indication that band leader Jason Lytle was still prepared to try new things, and Just Like The Fambly Cat does occasionally push in new directions - witness the thrash punk of 50% and the operatic album closer, Shangri-La - but no matter what genre the band mould for themselves, the subject matter comes as little surprise. With their final album, Grandaddy finally pull themselves away from the technology dominated world that they lambasted on their seminal album, The Sophtware Slump. The Animal World, with its barking dogs and chirruping birds, marks the beginning of this journey towards a more organic place, while the dreamy Guide Down Denied is also concluded with the sound of a dog barking.

Lyrically, Lytle doesn't give much away, but the reflective Where I'm Anymore has him admit, "I don't know where I'm anymore", and the dominant refrain of the six-and-a-half minute drama of album closer This Is How It Always Starts - the beautiful and fitting Shangri-La outro goes unmentioned on the album's sleeve - is, "Oh shit, I can't let them see me like this".

Taken purely on its musical merits, Just Like The Fambly Cat is an album where astral synths fuse with acoustic guitars to form a distorted pop framework; where its creators, ambitious as ever, reach further than perhaps it is wise to. But, more than anything else, it's Grandaddy's final album and as such, was doomed to perfection from the start.

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