Thursday, April 21, 2005


Shack Week Part 3: HMS Fable and singles

This is the last day of a week spent with one of the best English bands to fail to make it in the US. Maybe there's an indication of a problem here [list of all the yearly best-ofs that HMS Fable appeared in, and then Christgau giving it a "dud" rating]. I'm not a Christgau hater, but if you ever wanted evidence that he has the capacity to blow something big-time, this is probably it. The online Ink Blot magazine did its bit to salavage America's reputation by putting HMS Fable in their top 10.

You could argue that Fable came a couple years too late to cash in on brit-pop, but I doubt that all the people who'd bought What's The Story Morning Glory four years previously had died in the iterim. Oasis were still selling in 1999, and Travis shifted a record or two as well, without half the hooks that Shack were bringing to the table. Fable's production is inarguably radio-ready, and it's got something like 6 or 7 songs that could easily have been promoted as singles. And on Fable, Shack finally go uptempo anthemic, with tracks like the opener Natalie's Party crying out to be played for a stadium full of teary-eyed fans.

I'm very aware that there are solid reasons why a lot of the music that I like never makes it to mainstream radio. I can't think of a single artistic explanation of the failure of HMS Fable.

To add insult to injury, Shack released two singles from the album (Comedy and Natalie's Party) in the typical UK manner: two versions of each with two b-sides apiece. And the sad fact is that if you put together the eight b-sides with the one non-album single Oscar (and please, please listen to the words of that one...Shack were decidely not Oasis when it came to lyrics) you get a nine song album that's good enough to have been a hit on its own.

At this point, the most cost effective way to collect all this might be via The Fable Sessions, which collects most Fable material under one roof. On the other hand, you'd miss a gem called 24 Hours, and with used copies of HMS Fable going for a buck or two in the US, it might be smart to start with a used copy. If you like it, be aware that the b-sides are at least as good as what's on the album.

After Fable sank without a trace in the US, I wasn't expecting to hear from Shack again. When they resurfaced in 2003 with Here's Tom With The Weather (see Monday's post) it felt like the somewhat muted morning after a huge party. Michael and John Head are still theoretically writing songs, so who knows how things will end.

Natalie's Party by Shack
Oscar by Shack
24 Hours by Shack

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