KUTX Music Editor Jeff McCord’s take on the box sets to buy this holiday season. Albums are rated on a five-point scale.
The “Heaven’s Gate” of the music industry? To be fair, No Other didn’t crater a label. Yet David Geffen, who’s Asylum label financed and released it, undoubtedly feels a twinge in his wallet each time Gene Clark’s 1974 masterpiece gets mentioned. For its time, the album cost a small fortune – over 100k. Geffen, unhappy when presented with an eight-song album with no singles, refused to pay to promote it. Clark, in turn, refused to tour. The record didn’t sell, was soon deleted, and that was that. And yet. And yet. Clark and his producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye poured every drop of their creative juice into the album. Far from being frittered away on cocaine, this is a textbook example of artistic obsession. Lush and wondrous, LA’s finest musicians frame perfect arrangements. Steel guitars glide, choirs swell, while Clark’s crystalline voice soars above it all. Even for the guy [the guy not named Bob Dylan, that is] who penned most of the Byrds early hits, Clark seems to be working on a different plane. “When the stream of changing days / Turns in so many ways,” he sings in the title track, “Then the pilot of the mind / Must find the right direction.” In every respect, No Other veered away from Clark’s previous folksy solo albums. The reason Clark ended up with a big check from Geffen dates to a failed 1972 Byrds reunion. Roger McGuinn described the sessions as more of a party, and Geffen seemed impressed that Clark was the only one who showed up ready to work. Clark was no angel – his drug dependency would later worsen and he would only live to age 46. Yet by most accounts, the No Other sessions came at a time of relative sobriety. Over the years, as fans found their way to No Other, its reputation grew. But Clark wouldn’t live to see it. Geffen didn’t even bother to release the album on CD until after Clark’s death. A 2003 reissue would feature some alternate takes. But now, in an age where the album is widely regarded as a classic, when members of Beach House, Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes have united to perform it, the adventurous UK indie 4AD has released a remastered No Other in multiple configurations, including a deluxe SACD/5.1/DVD/LP box with 17 previously unheard alternate takes, a documentary film and an 80-page book. Not bad for an eight-song album. Clark made a lot of good music in his lifetime, yet this was a reach for the stars. No Other remains his artistic peak. “We all have soul,” he sings in “Some Misunderstanding”. “Yet nobody knows / Just how much it takes / To fly.”
Review by Jeff McCord