The Black Watch

The Black Watch

Very Mary Beth

Stone Garden

“Black Watch, where have you been all my life?” is the question anyone who chances to listen to this phenomenal album by these stalwart Californians should ask themselves. Toiling in relative obscurity since 1987, by my reckoning Very Mary Beth is their eighth album (and first without co-founder, J’Anna Jacoby). Yet, it demonstrates a band that is in full control of all their creative faculties. With a sound that hearkens back to the Replacements circa Don’t Tell a Soul, and the jangle pop of late-eighties Church, Black Watch crafts impeccable rock and pop epics with just enough tension and sense of disquiet to prepare an album with hooks and punch. A testament to the sheer talent of this quartet is their ability to vary their sound and style between tracks yet maintain a high level of consistency, talent and emotional impact.

The album opens with “All These Shivers.” Sounding like a dead ringer for Mark Kozelek, the gentle melody and cadence of Frederick’s lyrics are positively autumnal. “All These Shivers” is a song to be heard amid an early and rapidly falling night as it is carried across these cool October evenings. Plaintive and somber, Frederick’s intonation of “you could make me a believer / if you’d understand / you can do this at your leisure / you can, you can, you can,” carries a weight that transcends the literal meaning of the lyrics.

Yet, on the second track, “Mary Beth,” Frederick provides a counterbalance with a nice chugging pop song. Cast with some rustic hues and elegant chiming guitars as accompaniment, Frederick offers a come-on as he sings, “I want to take you down.” But if the second track indicates a change of pace from the opener, “There Must Be Something Wrong,” is a bracing kiss-off to a failed relationship. Built around a tight beat and pulsing rhythm, and Frederick’s metaphors, Frederick castigates himself: “I need you like a famine needs disease… I need you like a co-ed needs a creep.” As it is one of the more memorable tracks on this release, it is unfortunately the first to lose its charm after repeated listens. This is a problem that does not occur to “Bitter Getting Better,” which is far more effective and compelling.

“There’s only one letter between bitter and better,” Frederick reminds the listener. Although “Bitter Getting Better” is an upbeat track, the lyrics themselves belie the true sentiment of the narrator. “Bitter Getting Better” appears to serve more as a self-help mantra to get through the detritus of a failed relationship, a conclusion that appears all the more conclusive when Frederick hits the final lines:

The lamplights come on later now and that’s because it’s spring / This goddamn daylight savings time alters everything / And nightingales are keeping you awake / And all the worlds aglitter, but what you’re reminded of is your lover was a quitter.

Through the course of this album, the listener is treated to a band that is musically exciting and lyrically impressive. While it may be a hard-to-find release, it is definitely a jewel among the dross and worthwhile seeking out, especially for anglophiles seeking to indulge their pop sweet tooth.

Stone Garden Records:

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