Silver Jews are a band that I knew by name long before I heard a note of their music. Apparently they were originally associated with Pavement, and that was enough for me to not need to know anymore, at least until recently. Then I stumbled across a copy of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea in a local charity shop a few weeks ago, and I thought it would be worth the minimal outlay to just to check out if I had actually been missing anything .
It turns out I was. Although Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, was the final album by Silver Jews, and one of their least regarded works, it reached out to me at a time of personal difficulty and it warmed my heart, from David Berman’s rich voice sounding for all the world like an alt-rock Johnny Cash, to the countryish vibe, Caroline Berman’s spot on backing vocals, to the regular flashes of songwriting brilliance. “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat”, may be one of the best songs I’ve heard in years, but when you actually analyse the lyrics, they make no sense at all, yet I can’t help but love the song. On the opposite end of the scale is closer “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing”, which is a brilliantly honest ballad that I wish I’d heard long ago. Really, if I knew that Silver Jews were this good, I would have been listening to them for years!
One of the most satisfying things about Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is its vibe. For all of the richness of Berman’s vocals, there’s a definite sense of fun about proceedings, with regular excursions through narrative songwriting, featuring a lovely rounded production sound with a reassuring weight, without it ever sounding over-wrought.
So why isn’t Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea as celebrated as it deserves to be? Perhaps it’s because it sounds contented, and as if the Bermans really enjoyed making this album. And you know something, that’s just not cool. There are certain music fans who want their favourite artists to suffer, so that the hardship can inform their new material, and in turn that can soundtrack their own misery. A song like “Party Barge” just doesn’t sound miserable enough for some folk, but personally I love it – it’s a great little number and I wish more alt-rock acts would lay-aside their cool from time to time to record songs like this.
As “We Could Be Looking for the Same Thing” closes Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, you can’t help but appreciate how contended both of the Bremans sound, with it’s singalong chorus, rich and rounded guitar line. If this is the last album that Silver Jews will ever release, then it’s a wonderful ride into the sunset, and surely one of the more satisfying ways to bring down the curtain on any career.