I tend to avoid the “Desert Island List” of rock albums conversation because there’s always the risk of being predictable (“Sgt. Pepper’s,” “Who’s Next,” “London Calling,” etc.). On the other hand, there’s also the risk of being too clever (“Mott,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and “A Nod is as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse” all come to mind). However, if I were to simply be asked if Galaxie 500’s “On Fire” would be on such a list, the answer would be an emphatic “yes.”
Galaxie 500’s brief career from the late 80s to early 90s and their scant output of only three studio albums hardly seem stats indicative of landing a record on anyone’s “Desert Island List.” Yet, “On Fire” is so solid in it’s atmosphere, sequencing and simplicity, that it plays almost like that elusive perfect record.
From the opening “Blue Thunder” to the desperation of “Snowstorm” to the closing cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” Dean Wareham’s fragile voice and gently loping guitar combine with Naomi Yang’s almost subliminal bass and Damon Krukowski’s earthy drums to create a low-fi masterpiece. The sparseness of the trio actually adds to the sound of the songs in the sense that any more sounds or instruments would kill the expertly crafted mood and emotion. It is this expert economy of both ideas and instrumentation that push this album to such extraordinary heights. Less is more, in this case.
Although the above attributes might imply this album is lightweight, “On Fire” actually has a weighted urgency and tension from the first note all the way to the last — a rare feat indeed. Oh, and considering that the final number (“Isn’t It a Pity”) is a cover makes this accomplishment even more impressive.
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