Friday, July 29, 2011

287 Anthem of the Sun. Archetypal Hippiedom

Album: Anthem of the Sun
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1968
Genre: Rock


1. That's It For The Other One
1-I Cryptical Envelopement
1-II Quadlibet For Tenderfeet
1-III The Faster We Go The Rounder We Get
1-IV We Leave The Castle
2. New Potatoe Caboose
3. Born Cross-Eyed
4. Alligator
5. Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)

Lets make one thing clear at the outset- nobody likes the Grateful Dead. They’re not a band you like. You either rail against them as drug-addled, psychedelic noodlers who are only appreciated by the hopeless and brain-fried or you laud them as the greatest band on the planet whose tie-dyed greatness causes all others to pale in comparison. They tend to be a love or hate concept without any grey area to touch in between.

I should nail my own psychedelic colours to the mast and declare myself a massive deadhead. And when I say massive I mean genuinely colossal. I can go for weeks without listening to anyone but the Dead. I’ve got so much of their music I could start listening today and still have them playing a month from now without repeating a track (seriously, I’ve got  270 shows on my hard drive and that doesn’t include live albums or studio releases).  Don’t get me started on the Dead.

That being said I rarely listen to Anthem of the Sun. In fact I rarely listen to the Dead’s studio output at all. The Dead could make music that was complicated and wonderful but they did it best from a simple starting point. Onstage, with only their instruments in their hands and an audience urging them on, they could push each other to new heights and stand at the precipice of new musical vistas before jumping off and soaring away. The Grateful Dead saw music as an evolutionary process and never felt the need to be tied down by set-lists or conventional arrangements.

Anthem of the Sun is their second album and an attempt to take their experimental ethos into the studio with them. Unlike their first album (which sounds like rock played at a breakneck pace) this is an attempt to throw the conventions of the recording studio aside.  Tracks were taken from live shows and then overdubbed with extra vocals, keyboards, horns, exotic percussion and (sadly) kazoos.

The results aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination but they’re best compared to photographs of a sunset- you can see what they’re trying to capture but it's nothing like admiring the real thing. The album starts off with That’s it for the Other One, a classic Dead track that was one of their best launching points onstage. When they started playing The Other One there was no telling where they would end up. Back in 1968 this was the next best thing to hearing The Dead live but now in 2011 when I’ve got over a hundred superior live versions to choose from why would I choose to hear the watered down studio attempt?

Don’t get me wrong, Anthem is a great album and deserves to be here but every track here is available in far superior live version. The Grateful Dead were the best live band ever to grace a stage and we will hear from them again. I’ll try and control myself.

Influenced by: Nitrous Oxide and a large studio budget
Influenced: Record companies to tighten control over their artists in the studio

Highlight: Alligator
Lowlight: That's it for the Other One

Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: "I have heard virtually all of the Dead's recorded output and generally like them, but isn't this really an album which is more interesting to think about than it is fun to actually listen to? A grand experiment which mostly failed. Needed a rigorous editing job and someone to say "no" to the excesses which wreck it. The live versions of these songs on other Dead albums, recorded during the same time period, are far superior."

-Couldn't agree with you more.

So are you happy to bask in the Anthem of the Sun or would you rather stay indoors? Let me know below.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks. Glad it gets your deadhead stamp of approval.