I’ve built up a suspicion of double albums as their success rate is pretty small. They usually fall under the weight of the musician’s ambitions with even the most talented of artists coming a cropper and struggling to deliver consistency across an extended running time. Almost all double albums would have worked far better on a shorter format – even the off cited classics such as 'Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness' or 'Sign O’ The Times' have filler which diminish their impact. Can 'Big Wheel And Others' prove to be an exception to this trend?
Coming in at nearly an hour and half, Cass McCombs' 'Big Wheel And Others' is a difficult album to digest in one sitting. The record starts with 'Sean And I', which begins to confirm my fears of artistic excess. It is one of three excerpts from the famous 1969 American documentary 'Sean' featuring the thoughts of then four-year-old Sean Farrell on drugs, his dog and his hippy upbringing and they add nothing to the album.
That said, just as you begin might be tempted to give up on the record, a startling lyric or a musical change up is not far away. The delightfully reflective 'Morning Star' begins with “Leave your husband and come with me” and poses the question we’ve all considered at some point ‘What’s it like to shit in space?’, while the variety of the album is impressive, covering folk, jazz, funk, country and blues, with McCombs showing off his talent by delivering each style authentically.
The record is at its strongest when McCombs doesn’t overcomplicate things and keeps things direct, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. 'Brighter' recalls one of the great latter day REM songs 'Imitation Of Life', and is included twice on the album. The latter version, featuring vocals from the late actress Karen Black is my personal favourite, giving it a vulnerability and sadness which makes it all the more powerful. 'There Can Only Be One' is the kind of music that you want to wrap yourself in for weeks - it’s a truly wondrous love song. 'Angel Blood' and 'Aeon Of Aquarius Blues' are equally beguiling and comforting.
In the main, Big Wheel And Others' is a success, featuring some of McCombs strongest songwriting to date - in a career which can already be described as prolific. Unsurprisingly, given the length of the record, McCombs succumbs to self-indulgence, with 'Everything Has To Be Just So' among the worst culprits. However, like Fleetwood Mac’s own double album 'Tusk', there is enough variety and eccentricity to the record that makes 'Big Wheel And Others' a musical voyage worth entering.
'Big Wheel And Others' is out today, and available to purchase at Domino.