CD Review of Magnitude: The Sire Years by The Wild Swans

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Magnitude: The Sire Years
starstarstarstarno star Label: Korova / Rhino UK
Released: 2007
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There was a time when we would’ve figured it was safe to include both of the Wild Swans’ Sire Records releases in our recent feature, The Best Albums You’ve Never Ever Heard (Well, Probably Not, Anyway), and, okay, it’s probably still relatively safe even now. Most Americans familiar with the band came to discover them via their appearances on Sire Records’ late ‘80s / early ‘90s roster-spotlighting compilations, Just Say Yes and Just Say Yo. Still, the fact that the band maintains enough of a fanbase to warrant expanded, reissued versions of the albums as a new two-disc set – Magnitude: The Sire Years – means that The Wild Swans apparently aren’t as obscure as we always thought they were; well, not in the UK, anyway. (To date, there’s no sign of the collection emerging Stateside.)

When you listen to the stylistic difference between Disc 1, which contains 1988’s Bringing Home the Ashes, and Disc 2, which contains 1989’s Space Flower, you’ll wonder exactly what the hell happened in the Wild Swans’ camp during the course of that one year. The disparity between their sounds can be rather dramatic at times; Bringing Home the Ashes is a cool, synth-driven pop album with bombastic, soaring choruses, while Space Flower, though it keeps the same general vocal sound, features many a trippy but catchy neo-psychedelic experience within its grooves.

Yep, those are two decidedly different sounds. So what did happen between the two albums? Well, in a nutshell, lead singer / songwriter Paul Simpson went from fronting a band to running the show himself; when Bringing Home the Ashes didn’t set the world alight as had been intended, Simpson’s primary collaborator in the Wild Swans, Jeremy Kelly, hit the road. Simpson’s spirits weren’t nearly as jovial as the resulting, solo-composed material on Space Flower would have you believe; he simply chose to retreat to the carefree bubblegum sounds that were all the rage during his youth. The assistance of producer Ian Broudie was invaluable in shaping the disc, as were the musical abilities of Ian McNabb (The Icicle Works) and Chris Sharrock (The La’s) in fleshing out the sound.

Both Bringing Home the Ashes and Space Flower have been cut-outs in the US practically since they were first released, though the former has always been decidedly harder to find than the latter. Now that this reissue has occurred, however, perhaps they’ll both start turning out with inexpensive price tags; if so, you’ll definitely want to check them out -- and once you have, don’t be surprised if you fall enough in love with Paul Simpson and company to want to invest in Magnitude just to hear the additional material.

~Will Harris