Pete Spiby - 'Failed Magician' Album Review
Disc 1: 1. Lightning Bolt 2. Bible Studies 3. Friday Night (Just Died In Saturday Morning's Arms) 4. We Used To Be Friends 5. Why Not Let Them Come 6. Wrap You Round My Little Finger 7. Guiding Light 8. Mary Lou's Dawg 9. Working For Mary Jane 10. Thrown To The Wolves Disc 2: 1. Guiding Lite Blues 2. Mary Lou's Dawg (Came Back) 3. Why Not Let Them Come Again 4. We Used To Be friends (Slight Return) 5. Thrown To The Blues 6. Lightning Bolt Blues 7. Mary Jane Blues 8. Bible Study Blues 9. Mary Jane Blues 10. Friday Night Blues
I remember the first time I saw Pete Spiby onstage. The Wildhearts were touring "Endless Nameless", a glorious mess of noise, back in '97. Opening up for them were Groop Dogdrill, a three piece of Punk hooligans throwing out tunes and punches at the same time, featuring Pete on vocals and guitar. I was impressed but the band didn't last pass their second album. He then went on to front the Black Spiders, a more traditional sounding Rock band with a brace of great songs. They even had one called 'Kiss Tried To Kill Me'. Again, the band couldn't live past a second album and hung up their riding capes after one final "Fuck You Black Spiders" tour.
The dust from that journey has finally settled and Pete Spiby has moved on. Using PledgeMusic to get things rolling, he's created his first solo album, "Failed Magician", a double album (or triple if you went through Pledge offering an extra 'disc' of various covers as a thank you for people who got on board).
It opens with a simple brief conversation between Spiby and his son Edison before the swinging blues riff of 'Lightning Bolt' strikes. It's simple but really effective, slide guitar colouring the music. Pete's voice sounds clean and great. He's arranged the songs in a way that allows his voice to shine, singing in an upper key that makes you think of Blind Melon's dearly departed Shannon Hoon.
The mid nineties feel continues on 'Bible Studies'. There's a whispered "For the dudes" at the start and then the song drops. The vocal harmonies remind me of Alice In Chains in their prime, blending several voices together to create a wonderful melody. 'Friday Night (Just Died In Saturday Morning's Arms)' is haunting, epic in scale and vision. It's slower picked verses really allow the chorus a real punch when they kick in. The vocals work so well here, harmonies again adding so much power and feeling to an already emotional song.
Emotions still run high on 'We Used To Be Friends'. There's a real sense of melancholy to be found here as well as feeling of hurt and betrayal. These emotions are raw and sting like exposed skin. Trying to lift the mood a little after that is 'Why Not Let Them Come'. The verses with their subtle harmonised vocal lines almost sound like they were fashioned in Nashville before ripping into a punchy chorus with the pithy pay off line "I used to have one fuck to give but that fuck is gone" a particular highlight.
The tight riffs are back with 'Wrap Me Round Your Little Finger'. It's quick pace hides a kind of sinister darkness just under the surface of the song giving an edge that's hard to judge. Is it sadistic, masochistic or a bit of both? I suppose it all depends on how you look at it.
There's almost a feel of euphoria to 'Guiding Light', a tale of the morning after the night before. The song's protagonist wants someone or something to lead them away from their current situation. The journey is both physical ("Just another sunday morning as I make my way back home") and metaphorical ("Be the light inside my tunnel guide my way away from trouble"). 'Mary Lou's Dog' starts with a grizzled bass line that doesn't sound too far removed from the Groop Dogdrill sound. A lazy backbeat nudges the song as reverbed guitars and the echoes of gunshots ring out like the modern bastard son of a spaghetti western soundtrack.
"For the nine to fivers, the staying alivers" is whispered over the start 'Working For Mary Jane'. The song takes a cool measured walk through it's runtime. It might make it sound lazy but it also makes it feel quite anthemic. Big, ringing chords fill out the choruses while the verses are more sparse allowing a smooth flow to the song without hurrying it along.
The album officially closes with 'Thrown To The Wolves'. It's also a shit kicking, blues fuelled monster of a tune. It's time to give a nod to the mix and production of the album. Nothing sounds cluttered in the songs. Guitars are thick and don't bleed into each other. The bass and drums and a solid engine, pushing the songs along. Spiby's voice sounds better than ever. He sings in a higher key than you would expect from him and the material but it works perfectly. He sounds comfortable and confident which really benefits the material.
Speaking of the material, the second disc is comprised of striped back reworkings of the first album. This is no simple acoustic run through of the songs. The running order is swapped about and song titles are tweaked. It allows the songs, and Spiby too, a different lease of life. It's more chilled than it's sister/brother but offers up other emotions. At turns it's darker than the source material, other times it's more chilled. Spiby allows his voice show different characteristics. In a lower key he lets his voice sound a bit more chilling and the songs become a little more personal as he growls away somewhere in dark little places.
The alternate versions allow a different approach musically too. They are not just a simple acoustic take. They become more intimate with sparse guitar and percussion wrapping musically around the vocals. Slide guitar leads a lot of leads and melodies while dual and triple vocal harmonies help fill the perfect emptiness of the stark attachments.
The previously mentioned "pledge only" covers fit in well with the feel of the album. There's takes on some surprising material present too with Alexander O' Neal's "Criticisz", The Cardigans' "Favourite Game" and Depeche Mode's "Walking In My Shoes" benefiting from Spiby's dark vision.
I'll admit to being taken by surprise by this album. Anyone expecting Black Spiders part II or Groop Dogdrill part III is going to be in for a shock. There's a darkness and maturity to be found here that has probably been bubbling under the surface for a while now that's finally found it's musical outlet. The album plays out like some lost weekend where your world falls apart but gives you time to reflect on the changes happening around you. I've listened to the album several times now over the past week and every time I come across something new. It might a particular lyric resonating with me or the way a music part sounds, either way it makes for great listening. The songs could easily be added to your own personal soundtrack, documenting your life. I'll have to say that being a "Failed Magician" suits Pete Spiby well, long may it continue.
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Review - Scott Hamilton