“The last thing I heard I was left for dead” – Now that’s an arresting way to open your solo debut, especially if you were the main creative force of one of the best, yet almost universally overlooked bands of your generation.
Sometimes you just don’t realise what you had until it’s gone. Grandaddy were one of those bands that many admired, but all too few actually loved. With The Sophtware Slump being one of the most criminally ignored albums of the last decade and a clutch of other releases that any band would be proud to put their name to, it seemed Grandaddy’s only had to hold on long enough to become a major international success in the same way that The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev enjoyed.
It wasn’t to be though. Commercial indifference, personal problems and just being too damn emotionally sensitive ensured that Grandaddy ceased to be just as they seemed on the verge or enormous success. Just Like the Fambly Cat could have been the album that potentially saw Grandaddy finally take their rightful place in the Cosmic Americana firmament.
It seemed oddly apt that Grandaddy lynchpin Jason Lytle retreated to the mountains to lick his wounds and rebuild his career. Sadly for Lytle, his thunder was stolen when Bon Iver appeared from nowhere with a great album recorded in a shack in the hills. This seems to be the story of Lytle’s career, as there always seems to be someone doing something similar, but not the same as him and enjoying vastly more critical and commercial success than he ever did.
Yours Truly, the Commuter opens with the album’s title track, which just so happens to be one of Lytle’s career-best tunes and confirms to the listener that Lytle minus his old band doesn’t make for a lesser listening experience and that as a writer, he’s still very much at the top of his game. “The Ghost of My Old Dog” is the track that echoes Grandaddy at their most upbeat. Contrast this with “Fürget It”, which sounds like Grandaddy at their most reflective and emotive and you start to realise that Lytle the solo artist is not a vastly different proposition to his former band, Yours Truly, the Commuter just has more basic production values and is trimmed of much of the prog-rocking fat that insulated the tunes of Grandaddy’s later works. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the join until you realise that it’s much more intimate and personal, with allusions to failed relationships (both romantic and band), deceased pets, geography and skateboarding home to the house you used to share with your recently departed other half. On the flip side, it also has the unashamed indie-pop bounce of “It’s the Weekend”, which just goes to show that Lytle wasn’t all about beard-stroking misery, though listening to “Rollin’ Home Alone” you’d be hard pressed to admit that he isn’t a master at the more emotionally reflective tune.
Yours Truly, the Commuter closes with a pair of tracks that both could have been a brilliant closing number, the elegiac “Flying Thru Canyons” and then the more Laid back “Here for Good”, which could be viewed as ending the album on a whimper, until you realise that it effectively in closing the album it allows Lytle’s voice the drift off into an infinite void of silence, leaving you oddly moved by the whole experience of listening to the album.
Yours Truly the Commuter was released at a time when I had just gone through a period of change in my own life, so I perhaps grew more attached to Yours Truly, The Commuter than I may otherwise have done. Lytle’s cracked and emotional voice reflected my own hyper-sensitive state at the time and the themes of loss, regret, living for the weekend and yearning found a home in my soul that, if I’d been having a happier time, it may not otherwise have done.
Sometimes you need the rug pulled out from under you to keep you on your toes. While Lytle may never receive the critical acclaim or commercial sales his talent deserves, his constant striving to achieve acceptance means that at least he’ll never get obsolete, at least not to my ears.