Etcetera Thesis – The Whole Other Half (2012) – a post mortem

Okay, so it’s been one month since I released The Whole Other Half. Sales have stalled completely. People who hear the songs don’t seem to respond to them too well. No hate mail, but very little critical acceptance, either. I’ve almost stopped listening to the album, myself; I can’t bear to hear the mistakes any more. I did all I could with the time and skill I possess, but the fact is, it’s a grand but flawed effort. I tried too hard, ran too far and too fast, and I’ve got bloody knees now.

Time for a…

Out of Time was meant to be my Billy Joel pastiche, but it turned out to be more rocking and aggressive than I’d originally envisioned, closer to a Boston or Toto number in its execution. It’s also one of the most coherent tracks on the album, which is fortunate, as it’s the opener. That’s not to say it’s a fan favourite; it’s certainly had the most plays (47), but most of those plays are partial (26) or even skipped (18) plays, and only 3 ‘complete’ (90+%) plays. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the HIT. I still think it’s a good song, and the video was fun to make (108 views at last check). That said, it didn’t really find an audience.

Over The Garden Wall is a light acoustic number that I think represents how clever and inventive my buddy Gary can be. Don’t blame him for the fluffed timing; he didn’t perform the piece on this recording. I didn’t give him enough time to relearn his piece and play it himself. Most of the album is like that.

One Up On You is my New Wave piece. It started life as a sort of an early Peter Gabriel thing, but it eventually transformed into more of a Duran Duran/Missing Persons thing (only, you know, not). I kind of like how it turned out, really, but something about it fails to communicate to most of the people who hear it. It’s had 16 partial and 9 skipped plays. No one has listened to it all the way through on the Bandcamp site. It’s had 22 plays in its current mix on Soundcloud. I can’t remember what it had before I replaced the file, but I doubt it was significantly higher then the current number. 206 plays on Fandalism, but only 2 ‘props’, so again, who knows what it really means, other than that it’s not that impressive (Fandalism hits range in the thousands of hits in a matter of minutes. My number took weeks, and has pretty much stalled).

Show Me Something is an old warhorse of mine that needed to be rerecorded, and the various slide guitar parts are pretty good on this one, but I think it sort of confuses people, being on a so-called prog rock album when it’s clearly a bluesy country rock number in the vein of The Black Crowes or Derek & the Dominos. It got 4 partial plays on Bandcamp, 9 on Soundcloud, and 131 on Fandalism (3 props). All in all, not sure it worked. My voice on it is pretty strong, though.

Light Gardening is the first of my reinterpretations of Gary’s Garden Wall piece. It’s a bit of alright, but I’m not amazed by it. This one leads directly into…

Dinner Date is a prototypical Thesis piece where Gary and I were determined to do something slightly epic. It’s had 1 full, 6 partial, and 7 skipped plays on Bandcamp, 7 plays on Soundcloud, and 209 plays (4 props) on Fandalism. I find it a bit long and meandering, and I did my best to ramp it up, which displeased Gary to no end. The guitars are pretty chaotic on this one, but I simply couldn’t find time or opportunity to re-record them to track each other better. I like the separate parts enough, but they needed to be tweaked, and I didn’t have a good grasp of the editing tools when I remixed it, so the faults stayed in, because I didn’t like my edits. I dream of a cool double-guitar and keys performance of this to vindicate it, but the only person who can play those parts is me.

The Remains of Light Gardening is a nice instrumental outro to Dinner Date, made up from another take on the Garden Wall piece. It’s nice, and I like the mix here. It flows very nicely from one track to the next.

I’m Gone Again is a light, poppy number in the midst of the song cycle, Beatlesque without being as overproduced as my other Beatle efforts; more like the Byrds trying to play a Beatles song, though that hadn’t been my intent. The stats are unimpressive on this one, too. It’s a fun song, and I’m glad I did it, though it needed one more vocal take. I just thought it might find an audience. Not so much. Probably for the best, as it’s not very representative of the whole album either.

With Trowel In Hand… is another take on the Garden Wall, this time with drum and bass added. I like it.

She’s Like The Weather is a Celtic Rock waltz piece I wrote for my ex-fiancée, and it stands as the most obvious effort to get some exotic instrumentation into it. The mandolin is a relatively new instrument for me, so my playing on it is dodgy, but it’s a pretty decent recording. The violin part is synth, and I think I did a pretty good job of engineering it to sound authentic, but I would be the only one who thinks so. We have a real violin now, but I can’t play it yet. Some day… The song has a quality about it that I quite like. 8 plays on Bandcamp, only one of which was a complete play. Soundcloud=12 Fandalism=133.

…We Dig In The Garden is a pretty frenetic take on the Garden Wall piece, which I think caps Weather very well, but it’s flawed.

Lady in the Field is more or less Gary’s baby, though it’s Derrick’s sole lyrical contribution to the album. I liked Dawn’s background vocal and Gary’s guitar parts on this so much, I fought to make sure they sounded right in the mix. All said, I’m not sure I succeeded. BC=7 partial/skipped plays SC=9 F=178.

No One In The World was meant to be a Matthew Good-esque piece, but it morphed into a much more dramatic piece when I worked bits of the instrumental piece, Coda, into it. I love the song, but it’s a very, very dense, slightly flawed piece. The guitar parts in particular needed to be rerecorded by a better player than me, but I couldn’t get anyone to come over and play on it, so I stuck with my parts and learned to live with it. It’s perhaps my favourite track on the album (certainly my favourite part of the song cycle), but it’s a hard listen for most people. The bass and keys are some of my best playing. BC=22 (2 complete) SC=45 F=206

Better Home Gardening is a radical rearrangement of the Garden Wall piece. It’s a bit flawed, but I like it. It’s too short. In concert, I’ll do more with it.

The Incurable Romantic is a New Wave synth-heavy number that was meant for Gary to sing, as it was his vocal ad lib in a band jam that inspired my lyrics and vocal melody. However, Gary declined, so I took the lead again. I really needed to do another vocal take, but my voice had turned to crap before I could get a better take, and a better opportunity to record never presented itself. If I had it to do over again, I’d change the synth in the main part of the song to something a little more mellifluous, like a CP-80 in Steve Winwood territory, c.1980, and I’d redo the vocals and maybe touch up that dodgy middle eight with something a little beefier than just the string pad tone and the slightly wimpy guitar. Maybe a more muscular bass tone. BC=2 skips SC=14 F=185

Adventures in Home Gardening is the moody version of Garden Wall, which I think sounds excellent. For me, it’s pretty much the main reason Romantic exists.

All This Time (Nothing More) is the Fleetwood Mac-esque number I wrote for my wife. I actually tried to get a raspy Lyndsay Buckingham quality to my voice for that recording, which wasn’t easy, and threatened to ruin the take. Gary thinks it sounds more like a Phil Collins number. Dawn thinks it’s too dark, except for the jingle section, which is too light and fluffy. I kinda like it just as it is, warts and all. BC=3 (1 partial) SC=19 F=178

Back Over The Garden Wall was me revisiting Gary’s Garden wall piece, including his bridge and closing riffs. It got a teensy bit muddled, IIRC, but it’s not bad.

The Morning Dew is a bit of a palate cleanser between epics. It’s a silly bit, and I did little to disguise that fact, though it comes in the form of a Celtic war song. I wrote the lyric for a friend to use, and decided to do my own version because his dirge-like take depressed me. My sister was meant to play flute on this, but she backed out, so I just noodled some keyboard woodwind parts in there. Not entirely convincing, and a bit steeply pitched, but charming in its way. Not as touching as Time Passes By from BaC. BC=7 SC=7

On My Mind is an old recording I tried to fix up because I couldn’t bring myself to relearn the parts in the time I had. I was aware that I wanted to do a revamp of the tune, and that it would take me time, which didn’t really present itself when I was in the right frame of mind to work on it. I redid the vocal and tried to beef up the sound. The original recording is one of the proudest achievements of my musical career prior to this album, which was why I included it. It’s sort of my Home By The Sea/San Jacinto number. I love how neatly it dovetailed into On The Furthest Shores. BC=5 SC=4 F=71

On The Furthest Shores is a jam that was recorded over a decade ago, and which still stands up as pretty excellent music, even if the bass playing was all over the place for the first half. It’s a very flawed piece, but I thought it would make an excellent Second Home By The Sea piece, and so married it to On My Mind. I meant to recreate it in the studio and correct the flaws, but again, the time just wasn’t right, and yet I really wanted it on this album. The vocal needed another take, too. Still, it’s the most obvious example of how much influence Tony Banks has on my keyboard playing. I quite like it, and only wish I’d had a chance to do it justice. BC=7 SC=7 F=110

Old Man Saturn is a prog rock flamenco number in 5/8 that was meant to have sax and violin parts added, but I never got them down, and in the end, the song is probably better without them. It’s a very heavy lyric, and the vocal approach, though perhaps flawed, is very much how I heard the song. If there’s a better way to do it, I don’t see how. BC=3 SC=15 F=166

Last Call was a bit of fluff jam the band did a few years back that I liked enough to turn into an album closer. It’s one of those R&B blues numbers you hear in classic Stax/Motown records, or on a Van Morrison album. The saxes are synth, and it probably would sound much, much better with real alto and tenor saxes, but I’m happy with it. The silent section at the end was deliberate. Crank it up and listen to the birds singing. BC=6 SC=9 F=102

Here It Comes Again is my pop song magnum opus. I wrote it a long time ago, and even fully demoed it, but it needed a modern take, and I kind of went all out on it. It’s the most Beatlesque thing I’ve ever written, fairly dripping with Lennonesque wordplay and tight, rhythmic vocals. I actually had a bad throat thing happening as I sang this take, and had to push my way through it, going slightly flat in places and bellowing to get the notes out. It actually sounds pretty cool because of it. I think it infuriates people how catchy the song is, despite it being so hard to sing along to. Dawn preferred the more stripped down version. BC=14 SC=12 F=282 (my biggest hit on Fandalism)

I’ve been told my music is too dense in places, and I understand what they mean, but I suspect most people just aren’t used to listening to the kind of music I hear. That’s not to say my ‘audience’ wasn’t hip enough; far from it. The blame lies with me. I fear that the album simply isn’t good enough, and that I am not a good enough musician to deserve their understanding or indulgence. The songs are pretty good, I think, but over all, the performances just aren’t there, and all my efforts to disguise that fact have met with failure.

My friend David Jones warned me that if I didn’t take enough time to correct all of the mistakes I could, that I would feel this way. When I finally released the album, I thought I’d fixed enough to make it justifiable. Sadly, I was wrong. I have a few very sweet friends who have bought and listened to the album, most of whom have politely refused to comment about the songs or album, and it’s probably for the best that I don’t ask them the truth. Best I just accept that I blew it and move on. I’m sure I’ll manage to sell off the remaining physical copies of the CD some day (17 copies in total, 3 or 4 spoken for). Good thing I didn’t splash out on a commercial print version, or I’d be even further in the red for nothing.

In its defence, I will say that the album had always been intended as a vehicle for a future real band that could play the parts better than I did, and would make the live renditions and possible future rerecording far superior. Now, I just fear that I’d be setting myself up to be ousted from my own band for being the weakest link. My voice is shot, my guitar playing is suspect, my bass playing is serviceable but sloppy, my keyboard playing likewise, and my attempts to simulate instruments I can’t play (or hire those that can) convinced no one but me, though my ears told me the parts sounded fine.

So there you have it: my post mortem of the album I spent 18 years writing and ten months recording and engineering. Make no mistake: I’m proud of the results. But it’s that bitter-sweet pride usually reserved for parents of disabled children, whom they love all the more fiercely, but whom they know will never be able to support them in their dotage. It’s a beautiful album, and more accurately represents the way I think and feel music than just about anything else I have ever done. It’s my magnum opus.

And it’s never going to find an audience. I can’t help but feel I’ve failed my creation. Like the fictional Dr. Frankenstein, my creation is a hideously loathsome behemoth, and it knows I built it wrong. It’s only a matter of time before the creature throws my strangled corpse from the parapet.

© Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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