This isn’t the first time he’s ‘covered himself’ but this is about where Oldham must have started thinking about getting his Palace music heard again, having achieved success as Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. This would culminate with a whole album of cover songs on Sings Greatest Palace Music, done in an easy listening Nashville style (by turns amusing, boring or exhilarating next to the originals). I thought this 7” might have been an earlier experiment with the Nashville thing, but it’s not. It’s Oldham along with seven other musicians re-doing an old Palace song plus one new song. Is it any good? Actually, the verdict is yes, I like it.
We All, Us Three, Will Ride… the original from Viva Last Blues was a pretty and melancholy thing, just Oldham and crisply recorded acoustic guitar, singing a simple tune with a vaguely Scottish feel to it’s up-up down-down melody. The lyrics have that minimalist aesthetic, where the context for the song is not clearly established, so we have to take what clues we have and let our imaginations fill in the story. The narrator of this song is female, singing about how her man and child, the three of them “will ride and all together.” The setting then, is a “a small far room” with a bed and “trinkets all surrounding.” There are “pictures on walls” and “sinks … friendly running.” Who or what is in the bed? Something that is only referred to as “it” which is “dry” and setting. What she does notice however is other legs in the room, moving and warm, with a mention of “leg braces.” These are all clues, but it’s not until the second verse that we get a first person narrator talking about her own legs: “Reflect, reflect metal cast / My toe has long been swollen / My knees are blue.” The picture I get then is a woman in bed with damaged legs, waiting on her man to come: “My love has not forgotten / Will come, will come, o he will come / And make me have a baby / Then I foresee we all, us three, will ride and all together.” She seems to be hoping, hoping, but in the final verse, nothing much eventuates. She thinks of the hills and trees, a tale of a journey sans hero, sans saga; just a ride. He’s here now, holding her hand, chatting with her. The final image is one of helplessness: “A bleeding calf / A dog out in the harbour.” So you’ve two things here opposed: the ennui of a woman in bed with damaged legs, and a dream of the future, the desire to go out riding with her family. The sad lonesome music and frail mournsome vocal suggests the final image is the prevailing one—she’s never gonna walk again. So how does this new version shape up? It’s played on piano, quite a live aesthetic, vague shuffling sounds, like people moving around, but crystal clear, electric guitar, soft slow drums, a whining kind of instrument—what is that? Like a mouth organ, intoning faintly behind the voices—yes, it’s Oldham with someone called Sarah Devincentis singing with him, their voices just out of sync which is in keeping in with the shifting, loose vibe of the music. I like it. It’s really nice and woozy, although, the lyrics are rendered somewhat indistinct by the fuller band sound. I wouldn’t quite call it an improvement on the original, but definitely as good as. A live version can be heard on Funtown Comedown, 2009.
Barcelona… is a song of hubris all about the evils of adultery. A full band sound, electric note playing a jiggly riff at the outset. When the narrator, on holiday with his wife in Barcelona, decides to cheat on her, he comes to regret it: “By that thoughtless act I did map my own doom.” Oldham puts on his best sorry fragile waver throughout most of the song, especially on a line like, “If I’d wanted to kill love I couldn’t have done better.” ‘Oh Barcelona’ is mentioned a lot in the song, every second line in fact, like an echo always coming back to remind the afflicted narrator of his mistake, sung by Sarah Devincentis. When she finds out about his affair, his wife curses and screams so bad he has to defenestrate— “throw her out the window” – this is actually accompanied by wild background screaming by several members of the band. Freaky. Ultimately his ex-wife finds a new husband, whereas he never falls in love again, until he’s lying in a coffin full of women realizing the curse of sexual desire, saying that once his body (and ability to hurt) has rotted away he’ll finally be happy. Meanwhile the wife and her children play on top of him. The theme of this song and Side One, when taken in context of similar themes of lost or broken love on Master And Everyone would make you wonder what was happening in Oldham’s personal love life around 2002. Though we shan’t make that mistake. The music is also just as gorgeously full-rendered as Side One, with piano, drums, noisy distorted guitar, and what sounds like tuba offering whirly interjections, a neat addition. The music has a slight woozy feel—drunken brass always has that effect. About halfway through we get a tuba solo, that screaming section, and louder music rising to meet the weird drama. At the end, the whole band joins in for a chorus of sorts, “Woah ohhhh Barcelona!” The song’s epilogue—the bit about being in the coffin, is sung by some other bloke, yelled out from beneath the noisy brassy instrumentation, and the song fades out. Great tune for a B-side.
This 7”, which plays at 33 speed, was put out on some Californian label called Isota records. Seems to be one of those many Oldham one-off releases. The next 7” with Oldham’s name on it would be more re-recorded Palace songs in support of the Sings Greatest Palace Music LP, with “Agnes, Queen Of Sorrow” released in 2004.