Michael J Sheehy: Sweet Blue Gene (2000)

June 7, 2012

michael j sheehy sweet blue gene artworkRoll: 2-4-18
Album: Michael J Sheehy, Sweet Blue Gene (2000)

Michael J Sheehy seems to have spent his career just a little bit out of sync. Had Dream City Film Club‘s 1999 noise-rock classic In The Cold Light of Morning come out in 2011, it’d probably have been released on Sacred Bones to rave reviews instead of being derided as “goth throwbacks” by the press and generally ignored by the public.

That album (a perfect blend of Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, The Birthday Party and The Stooges as cleaned up the barest smidgen by Jack White) is one of the great unsung rock’n’roll massacres in pop-music history. Just a little too early and a little too late for the times.

The same fate seems to befall his solo debut, Sweet Blue Gene (2000). In some ways it’s one of the better Crime and The City Solution or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds records from 1986 or so, but updated slightly in the mix (but only to the standards of early ’90s u2). It’s the sort of bleakly personal and/or darkly pretentious record that’s expected from (or tolerated by) a college rock veteran but not the ex-frontman of a band no one really cared about. Taken out of that context, it’s another in a string of would-be classics by Sheehy that unfortunately sounded like a bit like a pop music relic at the time of release.

Funny thing though, now that it’s a full dozen years old, it sounds surprisingly fresh. Perhaps not as timeless as the dark, garage thrash of his old band, but something that wouldn’t be out of place on Fat Possum today. It’d probably get a lot more attention too.

Of course Sheehy has since moved on to another sound that’s a little out of step with the times. His latest work, With These Hands (2009), sees him veer further towards an Englishman’s idea of American gothic folk (perhaps by way of Shane MacGowan). Comparisons to the likes of Nick Cave could still be made, but now they come more from a negative “Well, he isn’t quite, is he?” standpoint instead of a positive endorsement.

On the other hand maybe it’ll also sound great in another twelve years.

Sweet Blue Gene, though, sounded great from day one even if not too many people heard it. Alternating between  mournful ballads and junked-up gutter blues, it plays out like the soundtrack to a film about a hitchhiking serial killer making his way from Nebraska to Death Valley. To be honest, the lyrics (mostly about relationships on the cutting edge of dysfunction) actually have less to do with death than they sound.

Some do though.  “Oh Sweet Jesus” is a touching story about a back alley abortion gone wrong that sounds vaguely like Tom Waits running Depeche Mode‘s “I Feel You” through a meat grinder.

The only real filler is a noisy spoken word track called “Auditory Nerves” which seems to only be there to break-up a string of slower tracks and bring the total time of the album up to 40 minutes. Otherwise Sweet Blue Gene is a pretty close to perfect slab of despair.


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