Deluxe albums are weird, man.
Bonus tracks are weird, man.
Wait, lemme back up: it isn’t that bonus tracks are weird. Many albums offer demo versions, acoustic versions or live versions of popular cuts on remastered and deluxe editions of albums. That’s not weird — that’s to prevent depreciation.
Because albums are one of the few luxuries which rarely go down in price unless they were on sale. The regular price is usually $9.99, no questions asked. So when a deluxe edition is offered for $2 to $3 more, my eyes squint.
“What’s in the fine print?”, “What’s so deluxe about this version?” and “Am I really getting my money’s worth?” are all questions that come forth, but only one really vexes to the point of dissatisfaction:
“Why would they add more studio tracks as a bonus?”
Seriously though, Led Zeppelin didn’t add “Houses of the Holy” to Houses of the Holy because they didn’t feel it fit thematically. And they stuck with that decision despite my vehement disagreement. They didn’t offer it as a deluxe edition bonus track. It was either on the album or it wasn’t.
(Side tangent: if you’ve ever listened to the album Houses, you would know that the track “Houses” would’ve done more then fine on that album. But that’s a rant for another day, oy vey.)
So when I bought pop-indie duo Slow Club’s second outing, Paradise, in it’s all deluxuriousness, only one question came forth:
“What the fuck?”
It wasn’t live, it wasn’t acoustic, it wasn’t a remix. The eponymous “Paradise” was a bonus studio track.
Again, I had to stand back, scratch my head and ask: “what the fuck?” because much like “Houses,” the track “Paradise” not only felt thematically relevant, but it’s one of the best fucking tracks on the album. If anything they could’ve swapped out some of the less effective “regular” tracks for the two bonus studio gems.
From there, I thought nothing more of it: the deluxe edition was excellent, and spoiler alert, I recommend this album. Until I started listening again.
I got angry: “Why would a band do this? Are they just insane?”
Well, let’s just say, it takes me a while for things to sink in. I looked up the regular version of the album. The bonus tracks weren’t there as I expected. But then I noticed that the run of time of Horses Jumping was about 4-5 minutes too long.
“Paradise”was those precious extra minutes. And if anything, it made me savor the duo’s quirky awkwardness just that little bit more because this album is all about revealing some secrets while keeping others.
Daniel Radcliffe is the only reason why I even bothered to give a damn about Slow Club in the first place. Honestly.
It was 2012, the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been on DVD for a good amount of time and Daniel Radcliffe was looking for his next little project. Enter Slow Club and their single “Beginners,” straight outta Paradise.
The guitar was raw, the rhythm astonished me, the percussion played my ribs like a xylophone and then the vocals rang out like the cries of a ghost.
And suddenly, it wasn’t about Radcliffe anymore.
Rebecca Taylor’s vocal power is quite frankly, impressive. It’s not overwhelmingly emotional à la Adele or speaker-splitting à la Florence Welch. It’s haunting, it’s remorseful and, at times, it’s pissed. But most importantly, it’s raw.
More importantly, even if Slow Club doesn’t necessarily have the singer-songwriter type production, they definitely borrowed the lyrics:
And in a moment it all came to this
The greatest book you ever read came from my favorites list
Of all the things to lose,
It’s you I choose.
So not only does the music hit like truck, not only does Taylor’s voice ring like a bell but the lyrics too, punch with some weight. And this isn’t limited to this here single.
The album is chock full of good, solid songwriting, top-to-bottom:
“Two Cousins,” the album starter, features a piano riff replete with remorse in every note struck. Each note just echoes like cold cries for a warm face, asking for somebody, anybody, who can relate. Paired with Taylor’s voice, it’s a bloody fantastic opener which showcases exactly what to expect in Paradise.
“Never Look Back” takes hints of soul and slow dance and mashes them together with indie sound quality and lyrics about loving a dead baby brother. Message aside, that’s a pretty effective method to show they’re no longer just a twee pop duo.
“You, Earth or Ash” is Taylor’s confessional — not that such is what makes it special, every song on this album needs a priest. No, what this makes this track special is Taylor’s slow build in vocal power, paired with a light melody, a bass track, a clap beat and an even lighter kick-drum.
There’s never been a cloud in the sky for you
Without this what will I do?
And I know soon you’ll go and I’ll pass you, earth or ash
One way or another, Taylor’s going to get over the man who broke her heart with a quiet choir at her back and that haunting voice echoing through the chamber hall.
But it’s “Horses Jumping” which takes the cake in sounding the most singer-songwritery about of this album. Watson takes the lead vocal roles here, and despite not being quite on Taylor’s level, he does a solid job making a true companion piece to “You, Earth or Ash.”
Really, those two tracks should be played back to back. In terms of “That’s 70’s Show” (which I have been shamelessly binge-watching), “Horses Jumping” is Eric’s song where “You, Earth or Ash” is Donna’s song.
Both are trying to deal with a breakup. Both think that the other is doing just fine. But by the time the two songs and the album is over, the facade is fractured. Both are damaged and need time for self-repair.
Super Bonus Section.
Eventually, the bonus tracks would appear.
And really, almost all of them are good and one is… ugh.
Yes, I’m talking about the Malcolm Middleton and Adrian Moffat cover of “Two Cousins.” I dislike the singing style, so I usually actually eschew beliefs of completing albums and strike that one right off the queue every time I listen to Paradise.
Whether the composition is good doesn’t negate the fact that it makes me feel like blegh every time I listen. At the very least, it’s equalized by the addictively quieter acoustic version of “Two Cousins.”
However, two bonus tracks could qualify as favourite song on the album, if not best.
“Paradise” takes the albums theme and drives it home. Despite all the pain that Slow Club expresses over relationship fallout, the duo still just want to be back with the one they loved before shit hit the fan.
Meanwhile, “Half Drunk” is the bar crawling, one night stand single. Sometimes relationships shouldn’t develop past one night. And featuring what sounds like glockenspiels and xylophones, Taylor and Watson combine to perform one hell of a duet that won’t last through the morning.
Summary (Super Deluxe Bonus Section).
I’ll sum up this in album in four words: it’s a breakout album.
It takes the previously happy and twee image of life they produced in So What, and smashes it to bits in the wake of someone else smashing Taylor’s and Watson’s hearts to bits. Listen to this album for some strength after breaking up. Chances are, both you and your ex are going to be pretty miserable and this album will let you indulge in that misery.
As far as the music goes, it’s competent and it’s good. Perhaps it doesn’t quite complete the concept or develop the story — there’s no specific moments where either Taylor or Watson make the “It’ll be better soon” epiphany.
But the misery is just as much a part of the process as getting over it. So if Slow Club wants to indulge, it’s probably for the best to let them, otherwise some of these great tracks would not be on the album.
And if you want to indulge, I suggest the Deluxe Edition for some extra medicine. However, the regular edition will try to soothe your aching heart just as much.
Producer(s): Luke Smith
- “Two Cousins” (Great opener)
- “If We’re Still Alive”
- “Never Look Back” (Theme heavy)
- “Where I’m Waking”
- “Hackney Marsh”
- “Beginners” (Music video highly recommended)
- “You, Earth or Ash” (Taylor’s time to shine)
- “Gold Mountain”
- “The Dog”
- “Horses Jumping” (Watson’s time to shine)
- “Paradise” (Fantastic closer; bonus content begins afterwards)
- “Half-Drunk” (Personal favourite)
- “Two Cousins (Acoustic Version)”
- “Never Look Back (Acoustic Version)”
- “Two Cousins (Malcolm Middleton & Aidan Moffatt 1999 Version)”
Notes: “Horses Jumping” and “Paradise” are squished together on the regular edition; everything past “Paradise” is deluxe edition content.