Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cardinal is more

Cardinal Cardinal (Expanded)
Eric Matthews Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit
I was fine for Cardinal to continue, but Eric was determined to have a solo career. I thought we would have ruled the world for a while and it would have been an easy conquest.
- Richard Davies (Magnet, #68)
When Cardinal released their self-titled debut in 1994, it sent a ripple through the current of music criticism. Now finally remastered and reissued with 11 bonus tracks, another set of fans can hear what baroque pop artists today owe to Richard Davies and Eric Matthews' band Cardinal.

Richard Davies brilliant songwriting and Eric Matthews nose for orchestral pop sounded especially fresh in the climate of grunge and lo-fi going on at the time. Formed in Boston following the demise of Davies' Australian great art-rock band (The Moles,) Cardinal was primarily Matthews and Davies, but also initially included Bob Fay, with the three collaborating and recording the impossible to find Toy Bell EP in Sept. '93. Fay left to join Sebadoh, while Davies and Matthews went to Portland to record their full-length, calling on Tony Lash (Heatmiser) for the three weeks it took to record.

Released to wide-critical acclaim, Cardinal started their album off with boundless pretention ("Listen to the sound that makes the world go 'round") and then proceeded to back it up. Lush, rich and yet slightly off, Cardinal relied on the past (Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach,) but more then that, felt like a glimpse of the future. "If You Believe in Christmas Trees" starts the album with horns and strings... the perfect pop song, but then is immediately followed by the dark and languid guitar line of "Last Poems," with it's eery octave-set breathy vocals of Davies and Matthews. "You've Lost Me There" was always my favorite, and with one listen to the chorus, I remember why... it is a religious experience. The bonus tracks are a treat - especially the demos "If You Believe in Christmas Trees" and "You've Lost Me There." Stripping the lush arrangements down to their basics is kind of exhilarating. And the demo for "Tough Guy Tactics" is especially raw ("let's do the Kenny Rogers number" says a voice to introduce it.)

The album is carried by Davies' songwriting, and there must be something in that to their demise, as following the release, Cardinal imploded almost instantly. Matthews longed to record a solo album, and Davies believed that Cardinal should be the primary focus.

Looking at their solo careers since, Matthews has had more commercial success (Davies garnering more critical acclaim,) so it's not surprising that the reissue comes closely on the heels of Matthews latest release, Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit. In one sense, it's a great album... but that's mostly because he hasn't delivered one in nearly eight years. I don't hear a "Fanfare" anywhere, but the opening ("Worthy") and closing tracks ("Back to Light Brown") are up to snuff with his best work.

The track that jumps out here, though, is "Cardinal is More," which reads like an apology to Richard Davies, both in the title and in the lyrics ("You said I hated you, but it wasn't true.") Matthews writes about their prolonged silence and the joy of reconnecting (as they did to get the reissue of Cardinal together.)
"Cardinal was more than just a new band / Two men on an island / If memories run short, the legend grows silent"

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drake leLane said...

Cardinal (Reissue)

* "If You Believe In Christmas Trees" - Cardinal
* "Last Poems" - Cardinal
* "Big Mink" - Cardinal
* "You've Lost Me There" - Cardinal
* "Public Melody #1" - Cardinal
* "Dream Figure" - Cardinal
* "Tough Guy Tactics" - Cardinal
* "Angel Darling" - Cardinal
* "Singing To The Sunshine" - Cardinal
* "Silver Machines" - Cardinal
* "Forest Theme" - Cardinal
* "If You Believe In Christmas Trees (Demo)" - Cardinal
* "Willow Willow" - Cardinal
* "You've Lost Me There (Demo)" - Cardinal
* "Out-Take" - Cardinal
* "Tribute To A Crow" - Cardinal
* "Tough Guy Tactics (Demo)" - Cardinal
* "Say The Words Impossible (Demo)" - Cardinal
* "Poolside '75" - Cardinal
* "Sweatshirt Gown" - Cardinal
* "Say The Words Impossible (B-Side)" - Cardinal

drake leLane said...

Eric Matthews - Six Kinds of Passion...

* "Worthy " - Eric Matthews
* "So Overblown" - Eric Matthews
* "Cardinal Is More" - Eric Matthews
* "Underground Song" - Eric Matthews
* "Do You Really Want It ?" - Eric Matthews
* "You Will Be Happy" - Eric Matthews
* "Black To Light Brown" - Eric Matthews