Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, No More Workhorse Blues b/w The Color Of My Dreams 7″, 2004

Here we have the second single in support of Sings Greatest Palace Music. I could add a note here about how much I’ve been enjoying these new versions since I got to know all of the songs through the Palace albums in the past couple of years. The more familiar with the originals you are, the more you can discern what’s happening in these new versions. More often that not, Oldham tends to bring the melody to the fore. Sometimes, they seem like comedy, sometimes improvements, and sometimes, as is the case here, simply like a different version, rather than a case of better or worse. “No More Workhorse Blues” was always a good song in its original style, just a feeble voiced Oldham and his quiet acoustic guitar. The B-side has nothing to do with the Palace revival project. It’s Oldham performing with a band called Tweaker—a bunch of fairly run of the mill nineties noise nihilists that I’d otherwise have never heard of—who he’d recorded other stuff with around this time too.

No More Workhorse Blues… this is originally from Days In The Wake, 1994. It opens with a whistly pedal steel and Andrew Bird on Norwegian fiddle, plus ponderously slow piano chords that sound almost identical to Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.” Between the pedal steel notes and violin, the two hovering and entwining around each other above that slow piano part, this is quite wondrous. The lyrics are minimalist, oblique, suggestive. The narrator of this song seems to have ‘made it,’ as in succeeded at something. The way forward, “this road here,” which confuses him, is all lit up: “Many lights up this way …  / Where have I come?” He finds himself suddenly “a rich man,” no, “a very rich man,” with “good pants on.” And this is great, he’s happy, he is “in stitches” and “laughing at you” because he is “in britches.” Must feel good to have a pair of pants on. He’s worked hard in the past, “written books for you,” and “held my own for you,” and now he’s a winner, on to a good thing. “I am no more a workhorse” he tells us four times, here joined by another male singer, the two of them getting louder and louder and building a right head of dramatic steam, moving into “I am a racing horse / I am a grazing horse / I am your favourite horse.” Seems to be a tale of someone who toiled for years and years, a writer perhaps, who finally got somewhere and made money. Alas there’s one tricky line in here I haven’t quoted yet: “Where is my tongue?” he asks. This is problematic. Why has he lost his tongue? Is this a result of success? Was he writing against wealth and success? And now that he’s achieved it, he’s lost his tongue. Is success worth it then? It’s hard to say. He seems more celebratory than not, given the way the song ends, rising and rising, telling us “I am no more a workhorse” and the kind of great horse he’s become. A great little number. Short though.

The Color Of My Dreams, If I Had Dreams… was written and performed with a band called Tweaker. It’s not really my kind of thing. It sounds like every two-bit grunge band from the nineties that decided to construct a song by playing it really really quietly and then SUDDENLY TURNING THE VOLUME UP FULL BLAST AND SCREAMING LIKE A SPOILT BRAT. Geez, I thought we’d left that Nirvana schtick back in the nineties. I don’t know anything about Tweaker, but this song is kind of annoying and doesn’t really suit Oldham’s style. It opens very quietly, with a cicadas-at-night type sound, a single tinging note, and a thin quiet Oldham vocal. The narrator of this song claims to have problems of some kind, mental or otherwise: “It isn’t that I am well, sometimes I am ailing.” What’s he suffering from? Women troubles of course. It’s hard to say whether Ruby has dumped him. Maybe she committed suicide because she couldn’t stand his whining and now he feels guilty for it. A thumpity thump beat joins for a couple of bars before we get to the chorus, and a warm warbly atmospheric organ tone fills in the background. At night, a “steaming night” no less, this situation gets worse; he’s more acutely consciously of his “failing” because he smiles to “downplay this … and make a noise to bury all of your weeping and wailing.” He goes to bed and … dreams. The chorus: “The color of my dreams, they would be you, Ruby / Oh, if I could close my eyes and bring you to me / And push your head into, make you not you, not you, not you, but me.” It’s at this point both guitarists join the mix punishing their urgent guitars hard as nails for about two bars before we return to quiet Oldham, and a piercing siren type screech in the background. He wishes the night “would go on and on / And not tomorrow end at dawn.” What comes next sounds like a Trent Reznor moment: “Everything I do is done to bring you closer to me.” There’s value to his dreams though: “Illness be or wellness thrive, my dream proves I am yet alive.” Actually, after hearing the song a few times, it’s not too bad. It just makes me jump when they do that huge power chord plunge and start whooping like demons. The second time is a little longer, but the sudden revert back to Oldham’s fragile falsetto is quite effective. Doesn’t have much of a tune though and is kind of forgettable for sounding so Tool/Nine Inch Nails/Smashing Pumpkins generic.

Apart from the A-side’s original version, neither song here appears anywhere else in the Oldham vinyl catalogue.

The next 7″ to bear Oldham’s name was “I Gave You” in support of the Superwolf album.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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