Monday, March 23, 2009

Anthem of the Sun - Grateful Dead Album Review

Anthem of the Sun - NOW we're talking....

After a pretty tame and commercial debut record (reviewed here) the Grateful Dead emerged from the studio with a hodge podge of sound effects, live tracks, and studio sessions called Anthem of the Sun (and often referred to as merely Anthem)

You can tell as soon as you compare the difference in the album cover artwork between the two that The Dead were going to bring a more authentic and experimental offering to the table. Indeed Anthem was far from "playing it safe" like the debut and seems like it would be borderline inaccessible to the average music listener. There are long periods of dissonance, feedback, sound effects, and the like.

Side one is dominated by The Other One and it starts out with the gorgeous Cryptical Envelopment section sung by Jerry (is this another "song" written in complete by Garcia - words and lyrics?). I am a huge fan of Cryptical and I love hearing it on bootlegs to get the full effect of The Other One. This studio version does not disappoint with some great effects on Garcia's voice and beautiful overdubbed instruments.

Then it launches into The Other One, and as the studio recorded portion blends in with the live concert recordings there is a bit of cumbersome murkiness to the album which has not stood the test of time all that well. The Other One is a prolific Grateful Dead tune that would be played hundreds of time throughout their almost thirty year run. I will not discuss the numerous "sub tracks" that are listed for The Other One on the Anthem liner notes, I've never liked these names and if I remember correctly I read they were really created to get more royalties from the record company (to give the appearance that more tracks were on the album).

The Other One fades out with some gorgeously terrifying sound effects including prepared piano courtesy of Tom Constanten and then New Potato Caboose begins. This song has a great mellow vibe to it and I am surprised it wasn't more of a favorite for me in the past as I listen to it now. There is some nice harpsichord and the very recognizable Bobby Weir opening line:

Last Leaf Fallen...

New Potato Caboose rolls on for a little while and sounds like it becomes a live concert recording (like The Other One before it) and there is a little bit more of lo-fi sounding music but definitely a small price to pay for a creative blend of music.

I've reviewed Born Cross Eyed on the blog before and frankly this song is interesting with it's fairly complex structure and numerous surprising punches, twists, and turns but not a real standout (is that mariachi trumpet I hear at the 1:20 mark?).

The second side features the absolutely fantastic medley of: Alligator and Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks). I've reviewed both of these songs on the blog but will say again that this acid rock at its finest. I have no idea what is recorded in the studio and what is from a concert recording in this track but it doesn't matter to me, I just like to crank it up and enjoy the Good ol' Grateful Dead at their finest. Some of the piano that is overdubbed is so beautiful during Alligator, it has almost the feel of a montuno and then the drums section definitely also has some afro-cuban overtones with a clave beat among other things.

Anthem of the Sun is a masterpiece. Every time I listen to this album I hear something new. How often can you say that about an album?

Anthem of the Sun
Album Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.4

: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

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