Updated: Jul 10
I probably own about 1,200 albums in various forms, scattered in various closets. It's not a colossal record collection (especially compared to my pals), but it's a respectable swath of music that includes rock, punk, soul, country, rap, industrial, and plenty of the sub-genres invented by music journalists. Of the 1,200, only a few dozen are perfect. This is a select group. A sonic hall of fame.
There's plenty of imperfection in sporting hall of fames. Not here. My Perfect Record List is faultless and immune to debate. It exists, just as sure as the earth and moon and stars and sky.
This blurb is the first stab at cataloging any of my Perfect Record species. The proper procedure would be to unearth the dusty stacks and meticulously play each, carefully identifying flaws in most and anointing the few that pass scrutiny as Perfect. Those privileged few could be sequestered into a John Peel-type chest (his, disproportionately populated by the Fall. Mine, the Mekons.).
But I'm not going to do that.
Sittin' here now, I can think of six. There are definitely more... waiting patiently within my collection. But let's start with one that comes instantly to mind.
Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home, The Geraldine Fibbers
Holy shit. This record. It fell from space. I'd seen the spectacle that was Ethyl Meatplow. Carla Bozulich was already famous and dripping with San Pedro Punk Credentials. But I sure was unprepared for how the Fibbers would coil all the raw power of her previous bands into witchy Uncle Tupelo* alt. country.
Right from the start, the lullaby violins of "Lilybelle" escalate into a cacophony of guitars and drums and then subside for Carla to announce, "In the dark..." I haven't ever considered this record to be operatic. Maybe it is. (Bozulich clearly likes album-length tales since she later recorded a verbatim version of Readheaded Stranger.) This record certainly seems to be deeply entrenched in addiction and self-harm. The Interweb has the answers, but it doesn't really matter. At about the 2:50 minute mark of the first song, she's spitting the lines, "Oh Scissors and paper and other sharp things" over a beautiful avalanche of drums, guitar, and fiddle. I was ensnared, hooked (another sharp thing).
And then we get the album title sung over a taut guitar that dwindles to just a few notes. It's tense. I am a huge fan of women screaming angrily in song (thankfully, we're in the middle of an era when this happens a lot, esp. in music scenes like Melbourne. Please see my annual compilations available elsewhere on this blog for evidence). Carla snarls well in "A Small Song".. which is anything but.
The other day I ran out of jam. It's a minor morning calamity if the bread box houses only wheat toast. Sourdough needs no accompaniment. The seedy sort we had at the time did. I started wistfully singing "Marmalade" (which I realize, of course, is a different, chunkier sort of preserve than jam). This has nothing to do with the song "Marmalade" except that it demonstrates that this song sits on the tip of my tongue and the front of my brain. It consumes a portion of my grey matter that should be devoted to the name of the friend you just introduced me to. But, sorry, this song is so good, I'm at a loss... unless her name is Marmalade. It wasn't was it?
"Dragon Lady" could be the best song someone's ever sung. But it's not even quite the best song on this record. There's a line in this song that begs, "Do something why don't you fucking do something?" It's a plea I repeat every time I think of an American oligarch or preacher. Of course, they won't.
"Song About Walls" opens with "Once there was a girlie, She was kinda surly, Stuck a needle in her eye." An exquisite victory ballad. Good timing, 'cause this album needed a win.
"House Is Falling" is my favorite song on the album. It's a rootsy rocker with a country chorus, "And the biggest liar in town blows a kiss..." Listen to the instruments build into those words. It's gnarly.
"Outside of Town" is probably the greatest country song of the last decade in a century full of great ones. Consider this scorching line, "A fool I have lived and a fool I will die. But you'll go to the devil for making me cry." Listen to it twice in a row, it just gets better and better.
"The French Song" is a sludgy and heavy lullaby, a little bit of Sabbath tucked into a dirty mattress.
"Dusted" proceeds with a Todd Pound pace. If you're wondering why I'm standing rather than sitting comfortably on the couch, it's not impatience. I'm not going anywhere. I've just got this beat inside.
"Richard" is a David Lynch murder ballad. At least, I think so. It might borrow from the Russian classic, The Master and the Margarita. Maybe? If that's the case, it shares its source with "Sympathy for the Devil".
The next song is threatening honky-tonk. This should be the easiest to consume, but nothing about this record is perfectly comfortable. I think that's what makes it so perfect. It's disjointed. It's work and play. It's Fugazi + Talking Heads. Waitaminute. Maybe "Get Thee Gone" is the best late 20th Century country song. Man, this record just keeps giving. It concludes with this song, which I deem one-of-one in the Banshee Country & Western genre.
Whew. Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home is an exhausting and powerful record. It's a feminist stomp. It's an addiction labyrinth that no one —not Lou Reed, not Iggy Pop, not Gram Parsons, not even Nick Cave**—no one else was brave enough to write.
If viewed as a narrative, this album might be better than any novel or movie I've read or seen. If it is novelistic, it's sorta like The Power & The Glory, but Carla's characters are more robust than Greene's whiskey priest.
There's really nothing like it and, as such, it's a worthy Perfect Record 01.
*Love Uncle Tupelo and maybe one or all of their records are perfect, but the sheer force and breathtaking harmony of pretty violins and urgent vocals of the Fibbers make it No. 001.
** Oh, Nick gets close and maybe he bests Carla on a song or two, but there's no way he sustains it like she does through an entire record.