Like many people, I only know The Czars as the band John Grant was in before he temporarily turned his back on the music industry. As such it is tempting to approach them as little more than a footnote in what is proving to be an extraordinary solo career, however there’s more to them than that, as it’s unlikely that Grant would be the same act he is today, without going through the years of hardship with The Czars.
Approaching Before… But Longer as a John Grant fan, the first thing that strikes you is that he’s not the sole focus of the album, which given that he’s a member of a band instead of a solo star, is exactly how it should sound. This is not the sound of a band who are carrying dead-weight either, as they’re evidently an accomplished act that know their way around a good tune, and, had the fates been a bit kinder, were more than capable of connecting with an appreciative audience. As it is, Before… But Longer is a sadly overlooked album of slow-burning alt-rock, which shows that The Czars were an act who were capable of great things, but never found the audience they deserved to.
Perhaps the failure of Before… But Longer to connect with the right audience was down to the fact that by the time of its release in 2000, the songs were already nearly two years old, and the sound of the band had evolved rapidly in that time. That’s not to say that it’s a half-hearted album though, as it is given just enough production sparkle by former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, but not so much that it distracts from the fact that this is a collection of fine songs.
If there is a problem with the material on Before… But Longer, it’s that it doesn’t seem to hang together so well as a cohesive statement. Individually, the songs are great, with “Get Used to It” being one of the finest songs that I’ve heard Grant sing, however there seems to be little flow throughout the album as a whole, as if most of the eleven tracks were placed in almost random order until closer “Leavin’ on Your Mind”. That’s not to say it doesn’t cover ground, as there’s a good mix of pace, and even styles, with the odd duet thrown in to make sure that you don’t get bored of Grants voice (then again, who in their right mind would?).
Before… But Longer certainly has its heart-swelling moments and it unarguably deserves a better fate than being a footnote in Grant’s career, however it’s not without its flaws, however charming they may be. The album is a fascinating, but occasionally frustrating listen, that is not so much a missed opportunity, as one that perhaps just needed a little bit more thought put into it when planning out the track sequence.