It must have been mid-2003 that Nibbsy first recommended Sparklehorse to me, but it was in the middle of a period of musical exploration for me, so they just got added to the list of acts that I had to take time out and listen to in the future. As time went on more and more acts were added to the list and Sparklehorse slid further and further down the list.
Then in mid-2005 I finally picked up It’s A Wonderful Life during one of my rare trips down to London and when I finally heard it I spent the next few months kicking myself for not heeding Nibbsy’s recommendation earlier. I went on a bit of a Sparklehorse binge after that and purchased their two earlier albums in the following weeks, but ultimately neither of them measured up to this album.
It’s A Wonderful Life is where Mark Linkous got it right. The album still suffered from the musical bi-polar disorder that had been the calling card of Sparklehorse’s previous albums, but there’s much more of a feeling of album-long unity than there had been previously. This is quite unusual as on several of the tracks Linkous had brought in the fashionable producer at the time David Fridmann, whereas others he had produced alone. Nevertheless this was pretty much the first time that a Sparklehorse album sounded like it was made with all the tracks considered, instead of presenting a series of jarring juxtapositions.
This is also the album where Linkous got out his address book and invited some famous friends to help out, resulting in guest spots for Nina Persson, PJ Harvey and Tom Waits, who actually add too, rather than detract from the songs they appear on. Linkous also reigned himself in a little from his previous album and the album is a manageable twelve tracks.
If you are curious about Sparklehorse, this is probably the best place to start. Linkous’ earlier albums may be much more raw, but It’s A Wonderful Life is the best all round display of his talents.