Feeling Strangely Fine (20th Anniversary Edition)

Semisonic

Geffen / UMG, 2018

http://www.semisonic.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/12/2018

Ah, the ’90s: the Seattle scene, grunge ascendant and indie rock in flower. While it had its moments, to this particular listener’s ears, a lot of the new music that emerged in the ’90s hasn’t aged all that well.

Enter stage left Semisonic’s Feeling Strangely Fine, one of my favorite albums of 1998. The band, an infinitely underestimated Minneapolis trio comprised of multi-instrumentalist songwriters Dan Wilson (vocals, guitar, keys), John Munson (bass, vocals, keys), and Jacob Slichter (drums, keys), delivered an album of distinct highs and lows, louds and quiets, enveloped in a low-key, lounge-y vibe that perfectly suited the group’s innate inability to brag or posture. As energetic as parts of the album are, overall it carries a distinctly intimate vibe, a catalog of late-night glances and whispered exchanges, deep truths and cheap lies all blurring together in a haze of earnest desire.

Says frontman and chief songwriter Wilson: “I remember telling Jake I wanted to make a record that had the folk music simplicity of Simon & Garfunkel but also the loudness of U2 and Nirvana. I wasn't thinking that these songs would become the soundtrack for so many people's lives. We definitely weren’t thinking that these songs would still be played on the radio 20 years later." But they are. And today there are at least three good reasons why any admirer of Semisonic should pick up this 20th anniversary reissue.

There’s the music, of course, the 12 luminous tracks that fans are already familiar with, presented once again in a run order that still feels spot-on to me, riding the wave from the initial punchy, widescreen hits “Closing Time” and “Singing In My Sleep” through quieter, more pointed numbers like “Made To Last,” “Secret Smile” and “DND,” in between being poked in the ribs by cheeky capers like “Never You Mind,” “Completely Pleased” and Slichter’s brilliant “This Will Be My Year.” Even at the tail end, the album still carries a kick, as thumping rave-up “All Worked Out” gives way to the more thoughtful “California” and “Gone To The Movies,” a couple of Wilson’s finest compositions, sandwiched around Munson’s ethereal “She Spreads Her Wings.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second and maybe most obvious reason to pick this up would be the four bonus tracks, all taken from the original album recording sessions with producer Nick Launay. The four “new” tunes were mixed by Launay—the original album tracks were mixed by Bob Clearmountain—and sound a little rawer and scratchier, more like band’s previous album The Great Divide. All four—“Long Way From Home,” “I’m A Liar,” “Beautiful Regret,” and “Makin’ A Plan”—were penned by Wilson, and as so often seems to be true, collectively they make a solid case that the band made the right decisions at the time about which material should and shouldn’t make it onto the original record. These tunes are solid b-side material, all fun to some degree, with “I’m A Liar” the pick of the litter with a driving arrangement powering a witty first-person lyric about a character pathological enough to, I don’t know, be elected president? While none of these leftovers feel like their fate was undeserved, hearing them in this context does allow the listener to get a more complete picture of the album sessions and appreciate both the fullness of the band’s craft and the wisdom of the choices made.

Finally, for a liner notes junkie like myself, the cherry on top is the essay penned for this edition by the band’s resident scribe Jacob Slichter, author of the sublime observant-Everyman-drums-in-a-band-that-hits So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star. In a spare eight paragraphs Slichter captures the moments surrounding the album’s creation beautifully—the context, the emotions, the magical mystery of pouring your passion into creating something fresh and new, with no idea how the waiting world will respond. “We wore our moxie for the camera, but everything hung in the balance... We saw no further than the frosty breaths escaping our smiles and laughter.”

The ultimate question with any anniversary edition, of course, is whether the album in question actually merits this sort of treatment. Does it stand up as a milestone in any sense of the term, and is it music that a discerning listener might want to purchase a second time, both to relive that moment and to get the aforementioned extras? The answer from this chair is an unqualified yes. This engaging, characteristically unpretentious package only reinforces the sense that Feeling Strangely Fine is an album that has always been greater than the sum of its parts, and has aged remarkably well.

The punchline? Semisonic is back in the studio working on new music. See you in 2019.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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