Adam Franklin & The Bolts of Melody
I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years
Second Motion Records
There’s a bittersweet irony in hearing Adam Franklin sing on his latest album, I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years, as he invokes the same pedal effect he was using nearly 20 years ago on Swervedriver’s Raise.
A certain amount of wistfulness for those days, whether it comes from Franklin himself or his longtime listeners, isn’t out of place. Swervedriver appeared out of England’s fog ready-formed, its members having already cut their teeth in obscure projects. And the band’s singular, shoegaze-defining sound, so audible from the very start, was characterized in large part by Franklin’s melange of guitar enhancements: the robotic wah-wah on “Sci-Flyer,” the drunken swarm on “Pile-Up” that phases into an industrial hum and whirr at the song’s midpoint, the oscillating backdrop of feedback on “Deep Seat,” the hollow guitar wail on “Sunset.”
Two decades, a reunion tour, and several remastered re-releases later, Franklin has nominally consigned Swervedriver to the past but, as the opening track makes clear, continues to tread the same pedalboard. Nor is “Yesterday Has Gone Forever” the only case in point on I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years, Franklin’s third album under his own name. “I’ll Be Yr Mechanic” has echoes of both “Feel So Real” and “Pile-Up,” “She’s All I’ve Ever Been” seems to borrow its stereophonic somnolence from “Good Ships” (which itself borrowed from the more widely available “Wrong Treats”), and quite a few tracks hail directly from the same lineage as those on 99th Dream (1998), the last Swervedriver album and by some accounts the one Franklin most wanted to distance himself from.
What’s most noteworthy, however, is how Franklin manages to keep the familiar so fresh. Although I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years indeed wears some of the frontman’s sonic hallmarks on its sleeve, the album is very much its own entity and occupies a well-defined spot in his discography.
Franklin is accompanied here for the first time by The Bolts of Melody in the same way that Frank Black picked up The Catholics about the same number of albums into his own solo career; the combined four-piece has the cohesion of a veteran band rather than feel of a solo artist and a handful of session musicians. It allows them to pull off a seamless peregrination through various musical styles, such as the slacker country blues of “Carousel City,” the languid piano-driven waltz of “Guernica,” the trippy sway of “The Road Is Long,” the bright and spangly rock of “Sinking Ships,” or the fuzz and drone of the ballad “Lord Help Me Jesus, I’ve Wasted a Soul.” (The latter, incidentally, is the only significant weak point on the disc).
Always the capable lyricist, Franklin consistently maintains that skill on I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years. No, the predictability of his rhyming couplets and the sheer incomprehensibility of the point of “Take Me to My Leader” won’t knock the listener over with their poetic brilliance, but unlike many other perduring rockers with several albums under their belts (David Lowery and Morrissey spring immediately to mind), he never descends into the self-parodic or the banal.
It’s hard not to long for the knockout punch that Franklin once packed on songs like “Duel” and “Last Train to Satansville” — that punch will preserve those songs until the end of the millennium-long sleep he apparently longs for. The new album offers at least eight tracks of evidence that he’s clearly, unabashedly mellowed and let his inner romantic shine. But that drowsy romantic still knows how to conjure up an irresistible riff augmented by an eardrum-tickling pedal effect.
Adam Franklin: www.adamfranklin.com