Thursday, February 11, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 91: Spirit of the West

This disc was a return to an old favourite from my university days.

Disc 91 is...Save This House
Artist: Spirit of the West

Year of Release: 1989

How I Came To Know It: This album was absolutely huge back in 1989 when I was at university. I bought it then, loved it, and still pull it out from time to time. Like this time.

How It Stacks Up: I have three Spirit of the West (SOTW) albums. Last time I reviewed one back at Disc 23, I said that was the best (Labour Day), but listening to this album, I'm going to have to revise that and say that although I hate going with the obvious, "Save This House" is the best SOTW album. And I really mean it this time, since there is only 1 album left. Of course, if I decide that album is also the best it is going to be seriously embarassing. I'm willing to take the chance.

Rating: 4 stars.

"Save This House" is one of these seminal albums if you were at university in the late eighties and early nineties.

Of course if you went to school in Florida, you'd think I was talking about the Florida State Seminoles - but you'd be wrong. For one, I'm talking about Canadian university. For two, Florida State's got nothing on the University of Miami (Go 'Canes!), so if I was going to talk about US Colleges, you can be sure I'd be talkin' about "The U" not some other Florida Team. For three, I'm not even talking about that kind of Seminole. It's called a homonym, people.

But I digress...

This album is seminal because you couldn't go into the university pub back in the day and not hear it played on the jukebox at some time in any given evening. If it wasn't on the bar-staff's rotation, somebody would pay a quarter to play it.

"Save This House" has one of the greatest party tracks ever written - the instantly recognizable "Home For a Rest". A song that to this day, when it comes on, no matter where it is played, will more often than not inspire some lonely table of drunks to start singing in unison:

"You'll have to excuse me
I'm not at my best
I've been gone for a month
I've been drunk since I left."

More often than not as you listen to the drunks chime in happily, you'll realize that you're one of them.

"Home For A Rest" is a five star anthem, which has so permeated the Canadian consciousness, it can be easy to forget the rest of this record is great in its own right.

As with most SOTW albums, this one is replete with political protest music. Where the previous album "Labour Day" can come across as angry, "Save This House" manages to capture the same activist sentiments in a less threatening way.

This isn't to say this record doesn't hit hard - it does. Consider the first words you hear when you put it on, from the title track:

"I'm not worried, it's a million miles away
Yeah I saw the news, it happens every day
Some Cronkite look a like
Numb from what he's reading
Wake me up! Wake me up!
It's one of us that's screamin'!"

It's just that the record also has a humour and a joy to it that "Labour Day" is missing. Songs like "Home for a Rest" have a festive vibe, which basically says that while the world isn't a perfect place, it is OK once in a while to just let your hair down and have a good time.

There are a couple of sour notes, particularly the maudlin "Last to Know" in which the last person to notice an affair is the person being cheated on, and the overly silly communal-farm anthem "Water In the Well" which is hands down the worst SOTW song I know.

But these are very rare low points in an album that, for the most part, alternates effortlessly between hard social commentary, and what can only be described as sentimental unity.

I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek "The Old Sod" which is a song about how many Canadians are proud not only of being Canadian but also of whatever other heritage they identify with (in this case Scottish):

"There's a bar in the rec room
In the basement of our house
A little shrine to Ballantynes
Haig and Famous Grouse
There's a sprig of purple heather
From the land that once was mine
And Robbie's on the t-towel
With the words of Auld Lang Syne"

"There's none more Scots
Than the Scots abroad
There's a place in our hearts
For the old sod"

The song reminds us that while we are all proud Canadians first, we often feel the need to remember our other heritage as well. These two tendencies come together in the song's final verse:

"I'm a citizen of both countries
And I'm very proud to be
The thistle, and the maple leaf
Are the emblems of the free."

As a self-identifying "Italian-Canadian" who has never been to Italy, and can't speak a word of the language, I can only say, "guilty as charged."

So in closing, the first song on this album, "Save This House" is a powerful political song about how we are all in this together. The last song, "The Old Sod" pokes gentle fun, while at the same time reminding us that...we are all in this together.

Best tracks: Save This House, Home For A Rest, (Putting Up With) The Joneses, Sentimental Side, Sentimental Side, The Old Sod


Sheila said...

This album reminds me of our trip to Scotland in...'96? We had "Home For a Rest" on our mixed tape and sang along with it when we were travelling. Ah... :)

Joel C said...

Every time I hear 'Home For A Reat', I wonder who it is. I always thought it was Great Big Sea. Thanks for setting me straight. This is album is now on my 'buy' list.