Pity The Band. They made two of the best records ever and then only made good records after that.Taken on their own terms, Moondog Matinee and Northern Lights are enjoyable and successful albums; in context, they pale somewhat. Moondog is an oldies record with verve aplenty, though loosening up what were originally fabulously concise recordings takes some getting used to. Northern Lights features analogous, slightly inferior versions of previous songs: so oddball love song “Jemima Surrender” becomes the amusing enough lost-love “Ophelia”; the oblique, yet aching history of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” becomes the linear narrative of “Acadian Driftwood”; “It Makes No Difference”‘s straightforward sense of loss is the new “Tears of Rage”, etc. What’s missing is the group’s singular thrill of discovery and its off-kilter, but dynamic and perfectly judged sense of timing, melody and proportion. Simply put, they’d lost their natural eccentricity. It’s probably understandable.
These two cds cost me a quid apiece yesterday. I photographed them in their plastic cases, in spite of aesthetics, to demonstrate that sometime in 2001, HMV could get away with charging £17 for a simple re-issue compact disc because someone would pay it. I bought Big Pink and the brown album around the same time, but no way would I have forked out that much.