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Plush - Fed

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Artist: Plush

Album: Fed

Label: After Hours

Review date: Jun. 19, 2002

Plush' s new album Fed is the result, it seems, of years -- decades even -- of pent up pop frustration. Until now, Plush (essentially Chicagoan Liam Hayes and assorted friends) has only been able to let off steam in bursts and spurts, and even the piano/vox crooning of 1998's much-heralded The More You Becomes You felt more like the skeleton of a beast than the monster itself. With Fed the volcano has finally erupted and in doing so has washed away all roads in its path. To both his benefit and his undoing Hayes spent such a long time in Steve Albini's A-Room (duly noted in the liner notes) testing mics, arranging horns and strings, and meticulously extracting every ounce of pop from each note, that when the bill finally arrived it was too steep for any American or European label to support. Japan's After Hours Records was willing to buy the rights to it, but unfortunately without Wilco-caliber fanfare or a Breeder-caliber contract it seems unlikely that this album will see the light of day on either rim of the Atlantic. Hayes himself poses a worthwhile question on "Blown Away" when he asks "Well somebody told me I was great / Was it my mother?" It's a pickle of the most horribly frustrating sort in which everyone loses: Hayes' lifetime achievement will go relatively unnoticed while music fans across the world will miss out on one of the year's finest albums.

Plush is a synergistic sum of influences that range everywhere from early nineties Brit Pop to black-and-white Atlantic City lounges. While these influences were slow to show themselves on previous Plush recordings, here they flaunt themselves. The first song ("Whose Blues") alone moves violently through a number of parts: lengthy guitar builds, an exploding horn section, solemn strings, a female backup chorus. For this institution of an album, Hayes' schoolmates sit second-chair, replaced by an extensive list of pricey studio ringers (such as soul noteworthy Morris Jennings on drums) and Chicago regulars (McEntire, Rizzo, Parker) among many, many others. The professional precision of the players pays off in spades as Hayes' complex and meandering melodies are rendered far more coherent and satisfying than they otherwise might have appeared. At times Fed seems to mock the mere existence of The More You Becomes You, demonstrating the before and after, as well as, to an extent, the right and wrong. Indeed, while the variety of seemingly unrelated melodies once made Plush's songs difficult to follow and thus difficult to appreciate, here Hayes is able to instrumentally foreshadow, remind, and synergize, bringing his anguished pop to a rarely seen level of perfection and depth. In one long minute, "So Blind" moves through five different melodic segments. Horns shift easily from haunting backdrop to explosive forefront, smoothly giving way for strings as Hayes' voice forces the varied melodies with crisp sincerity.

While there are no duds, the shades of Brit Pop found on "Greyhound Bus Station" offer the album's only hope for a true hit, if not for its catchiness simply because it is one of the only conventionally structured songs on the album. Even still, Hayes' dissonant wail to conclude each chorus is achingly innovative. The title track, "Fed," comes toward the end and seems to come in movements, the first of which is a horn-and-guitar-led instrumental interlude of sorts. It fades to a brief silence before Hayes bursts in, proclaiming "I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe…" The melody shifts quickly between major and minor keys as Hayes' voice fights and flirts with falsetto. Hayes' lead guitar interjection, one of very few on the album, sounds like a tonal and melodic tribute to George Harrison, and a great one. The second chunk of "I believe"s is followed by a garbled and striking repetition of "Thank you'ster". Like many on the album, the song seems to be somewhat related to the process of making the album itself. The interaction of the lyrics with the melodies would not be out of place in a musical or some sort of meta-biographical performance. Hayes' emotional and melodic manipulation is seamless, and one could quite easily imagine the picturesque Hayes performing the album onstage beginning to end as a presentation of both the agony of the process as well as the result itself.

Liam Hayes' devotion to his own craft is, relative to his income and reputation, unmatched anywhere. It is frustrating to observe from the outside and probably agonizing for Hayes himself, but (if it's any consolation) my personal admiration for Hayes' persistence as well as his product is as nearly infinite. Hayes is now confronted not only with personal debt that approaches the 6-figure cost of Fed, but with the knowledge that this, clearly his greatest artistic achievement, may be virtually ignored. Again, this seems to be something of which Hayes was aware during its recording, making it all the more sincere, intriguing, and painful to listen to. It's hard to say if the album was actually worth every penny—it probably wasn't—but it clearly benefited from the degree Hayes' devotion and precision; it sounds fantastic. However, ingenuity and sincerity (two things in which Hayes excels) are priceless, and the sum of the parts is quite a masterpiece indeed. Not one minute into the album, Hayes moans "My creation has drowned me". It's a tragically fitting mantra for the entire album, however thrilling it is to watch him drown.

Note: This album is unavailable domestically. We recommend purchasing it at Reckless since they seem to have the best price.

By Sam Hunt

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