GRANDADDY The Sophtware Slump (V2/Will)

Grandaddy's second long player and major label debut has widely been touted in the music press as this year's glittering cosmic Americana prize find, previous winners including such future classics as Mercury Rev's "Deserter's Songs" and The Flaming Lips' "The Soft Bulletin". Comparisons like that are difficult to ignore, and so after hearing the track "Miner At The Dial-A-View", a tearfully wistful slice of electronic space-country, I set out to explore some more.

Grandaddy's music is lighter than that of the aforementioned bands, being heavily Mellotron-saturated and blessed with a wicked undercurrent of sad-eyed humour that sees Jason Lytle writing songs called things like "He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot" and "Broken Household Appliance National Forest", singing about drunken homemade robot poets or spreadsheets, or even slinging in covert Electric Light Orchestra tributes. But the key theme of "The Sophtware Slump" is that of people trapped out of place or out of time, and as such it's a deliciously melancholy album, echoing such unhappy classics as Big Star's "Third/Sister Lovers" and Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night" in the way the songs frequently seem to be on the brink of total collapse, which is of course a good thing.

Although undoubtedly a great, great piece of work, "The Sophtware Slump" isn't quite the equal of its illustrious forebears - the album's inherent fragility prevents it from scooping the listener up in a great big bundle of joy or tearful empathy, tricks the Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips albums turn with ease, and you wonder how much more potent it might have been had it also benefitted from David Fridmann's production genius. Nevertheless, if you think you'll love this album you almost certainly will.

GRANDADDY Under The Western Freeway (Big Cat/Will)

GRANDADDY The Sophtware Slump (V2/Will)

Spurred through their back catalogue by the thorough excellence of this year's "The Sophtware Slump", Grandaddy's junior effort "Under The Western Freeway" finds all their trademark ingredients present and correct, but in an agreeably rougher-hewn mix. There's the same clash of primitive synthesisers, sun-kissed Beach Boys harmonising and skewed, Pavementesque observations on modern life and rubbish, as suggested by verbose song titles such as "Collective Dreamwish Of Upperclass Elegance" and "Poisoned At Hartsy Thai Food". Best bits include the pure pop of "A.M. 180", the glorious expose of the leisure lie that is "Summer Here Kids" ("Summer here totally lies/Tourist info. said I'd have a good time…Stay alone put a record on/Listen to the songs keep yourself at home") and the marvellous "Why Took Your Advice" ("I took your advice and fixed my radio/But I can't find anything that sounds good anymore"). The whole thing ends with a few minutes of back-to-nature ambience, all birdsong and chirping crickets.

Marvellous though "Under The Western Freeway" undoubtedly is, reacquaintance with "The Sophtware Slump", via its long overdue (180gm) vinyl release shows just how far they've progressed in the intervening two years. It's an album that just resonates with a gorgeous, monochrome melancholy, the lyrics having progressed from tricksy slacker wordplay to genuinely moving empathy for people trapped out of place or time, evoking Walter Tevis' sci-fi novel (and the later Nicolas Roeg/David Bowie film) "The Man Who Fell To Earth". And happily all this wonderment has arrived on a vinyl pressing that is leagues ahead of the usual 'CD with scratches' quality those of us who buy the black stuff are often fobbed off with, being subtler, darker and somehow more liquid than the CD issue, especially when the emotions peak on "Miner At The Dial-A-View" and "So You'll Aim Towards The Sky". Although it should be December when you read this, it still feels too early to make predictions about the year's finest albums, especially without the comfort blanket of the NME's end of year top 50 to fall back on and given that it's been a pretty extraordinary twelve months in popular music. Nevertheless, I feel confident in saying that no other album has moved me this year like "The Sophtware Slump" - on reflection, despite the reservations expressed in my earlier review of the CD, it's every acre the equal of its fabulous Cosmic American Music forebears "Deserter's Songs" and "The Soft Bulletin" - and if that's adequate qualification for picking an album of the year then this is it.

GRANDADDY The Broken Down Comforter Collection (Big Cat)

"The Broken Down Comforter Collection" gathers together the entire pre-history of this wonderful Californian ensemble, containing the 1994 EP "Machines Are Not She" and the 1995 mini-album "A Pretty Mess By This One Band". It's instructive to note the dates: four years before their debut proper, the life-alteringly perfect "Under The Western Freeway" everything that makes Grandaddy's music great had already been assembled. There's oblique subject matter ("Taster" advertises its titular vacancy, the previous incumbent having fallen victim to a bad pot of duck stew destined for his royal employer), strange dialogue samples ("Fentry" opens with a slice of "Tomorrow", 'a nearly perfect movie made in the 70s'), covert Electric Light Orchestra tributes ("Levitz" swipes four lines from that band's wonderful "Mister Kingdom"), melancholy melody ("For The Dishwasher") and music that suggests The Beach Boys and Mercury Rev experimenting with abandoned electronics. What it doesn't offer is the coherence and clarity of vision Grandaddy have brought to their subsequent work: even the finest moments here sound a little underwritten and distant. As a sustained listening experience "The Broken Down Comforter Collection" doesn't impress as much as you might hope; as a stepping stone to understanding the evolution of one of the most important bands working today, I wouldn't want to be without it.