Grandaddy - Under the Western Freeway [20th Anniversary Edition]

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2017-10-20
Grandaddy - Under the Western Freeway [20th Anniversary Edition]
Grandaddy - Under the Western Freeway [20th Anniversary Edition]

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year, Grandaddy’s debut album, Under the Western Freeway is being released as a double vinyl of blue and yellow, with a subset of unreleased tracks comprising demos and other unreleased tracks. The real gold perhaps is in the limited run of cassettes entitled Practice ’97 which has sold out to 250 fans already, and includes [amongst reasonably polished demos from the Under the Western Freeway sessions] 1994’s ‘Taster’, and the B-Side to Summer Here Kids, ‘Levitz’, both essential tracks for fans.

The serene imagery which adorned many of the albums, singles and EP releases of Grandaddy is really in deliberate contradistinction to the stark realities of being locked into an urban existence. In the song ‘Everything Beautiful is Far Away’ the narrator glimpses the elusive beauty of the natural world [distant swans on a pale white lake] but assumes it belongs to another place, metaphorically [and actually] out of reach. Heady themes of industrial alienation are contrasted in the music with giddy electronics, and spacey indie-rock which shuffles awkwardly but dispatches big anthems, opening the doors to fans who might otherwise have been put off by the cynical undertones.  

Lytle was said to be a big E.L.O fan when he was a kid, and claims this influenced his song-writing. I’d have never thought of this unless I’d read it, but it does help explain why the bustling choruses like the one on ‘Laughing Stock’ have such a grand 1970s mass-choired effect. Listening again, it seems that the colder electronic elements in Grandaddy’s music were always peripheral to the big organic themes. Themes that represented escapism next to the starker illustrations of a lonely existence.  

Of the bonus tracks, there’s a much slower version of ‘Our Dying Brains’ which was to appear as a B-Side to ‘The Crystal Lake’ in 1990, and was a staple in their live sets. The later improvements transformed the track into something more dynamic and up-tempo, but fans will be fascinated by this dopamine-infused sleeper version. The early demo of ‘Summer Here Kids’ is marred by the even more than usual off-key singing. Of the songs that haven’t been released, ‘Hawaiian Island Wranglers’ is occasionally raucous, chugging along a bit out of puff before the typical excursion into fuzzy rock. ‘Bjork Elo Xanadu and the Birth of Chartsengrafs’ is what it says, a fan’s presentation of minor track, Bjork Elo Xanadu, and the beginnings of the track that would feature on The Sophtware Slump, Grandaddy’s magnificent follow-up. The best is probably the slightly subdued ‘Laughing Stock’ [Revelation Demo] which emphasises the harmonics over the more histrionic amplification of chorus.

None of the bonus offerings diminish the wonderful original album, but illustrate how the band rallied around Lytle’s ideas and gave them the depth they deserved.

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