Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Shack Week Part 2

This week is all about doing a casual overview of the British band Shack, who might just be a little bit too unknown in the US.

Shack's first album was Zilch, and I wrote about it last week. Get it fast if you're going to...Japanese reissues have a way of going out of print.

Following Zilch there comes one of the better "recording disasters" stories, which has been written about frequently by all sorts of people. In short, Shack went back into the studio and recorded a follow-up, Waterpistol. Studio burns down, master tapes destroyed. One DAT survives, but oops, we left it in the glove compartment of a rental car. Huge search, tape located, and several years later the album comes out (not on the biggest label in the world), long after whatever momentum Zilch had generated has fizzled.

Waterpistol fixes most of the production flaws that affect Zilch: the drums are appropriate and there's a fuller and warmer sound all around. Some vestiges of Manchester remain, as in the great track Dragonfly. Otherwise, you get largely restrained, top-notch songwriting in a classic 60's vein. A fair number of Shack fans rank this as their best album. It's worth noting at this point that Michael Head has a very warm, very English, and very distinctive voice, such that any song he sings is immediately identifiable as his. Meaning that Shack rarely sound like imitators, even when they're flat out stealing other people's riffs (e.g. So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star, On Broadway).

In 1997, a few years after the belated release of Waterpistol, Michael and brother John Head of Shack put out an album as Michael Head And The Strands. This is probably my second favorite release by Shack and related bands. It crystalizes the Love/Byrds axis into a beautiful, largely acoustic album that's as classic, warm and fuzzy as you could possibly ask. Another blog, coincidentally, featured this album on Monday and posted the song that I would have posted, so go here to download the indispensible X Hits The Spot (hint: it probably should have been "H" hits the spot) from the Strands album. As a special bonus, here's a demo of the opening track Queen Matilda, a lovely acoustic piece with pretty and haunting lyrics. I'm so not a words person, but I'll go on record as saying that the line:

What would you do
If the sun hits the ground
And the trees poked through
Beneath the sea

Food everywhere
And fog on the waves
And the fish float by in gravity

especially as sung by Michael Head, qualifies as poetry, in a good way.

One more day where we get to HMS Fable, possibly the best ever hit album that no one (well, virtually) in America knows. And the best batch of b-sides that I know of.

Dragonfly by Shack
Queen Matilda Demo by Michael Head & The Strands

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