It takes so many words just to describe this album, how can I give it justice in a review? I suppose to start with saying that music rarely elicits emotion from me. I tend to decide what I like merely by how something sounds on the surface, and with today's music, there isn't much else to go on. Well, on
Red Headed Stranger, there is plenty of inherent emotion in every note.
The title song always pains me to hear, especially the moment that the rest of the song foreshadows so well. And when "they dance with smiles on their faces" in "Denver," I want to burst with happiness for our hero. "Hands on the Wheel" is one of the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard.
Red Headed Stranger's story of betrayal, murder, and redemption through re-found love is full of nuance and little touches that are perfect. Nelson uses his voice as another instrument, never taking center stage but always blending in with the minimal guitar and backing, finally letting the piano express its pure joy on "Down Yonder."
These songs, almost all of which were written by different people, come together in an amazingly cohesive package. These choices show an inherent knowledge of storytelling--with its peaks and valleys--that carries throughout the arrangement of the album.
This is one of the great concept albums, and one of the great albums in general, of all time. It belongs in any music fan's library. I am a not a country music fan in general, but I love what has been done with
Red Headed Stranger. It is a tight story, well-told in an inimitable fashion.
I first bought
Psychoderelict on cassette from a cutout bin at a discount store. I loved it immediately, from the dialogue (full of wonderfully evocative performances from the actors, by the way) to the surrounding songs, I felt that this was indeed a masterpiece. I wore out my tape from the multiple listens and upgraded to CD at the first opportunity.
I have always been a fan of the concept album. Jethro Tull's
Thick as a Brick never leaves my CD case and I am also a great fan of
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis and Pink Floyd's
Dark Side of the Moon (although not
The Wall, an overdone exercise in egomania -- but, hey, geniuses aren't perfect, are they?). An artist that can string numerous quality songs along one theme shows, to me, the height of talent.
Some have said that this, the full version, is only worth a listen or two, and that the
music-only version is the one to get. They must not be fans of
old-time radio like myself. The best shows can be heard literally dozens of times, getting better with each listen. And where would the
Firesign Theatre be if you couldn't listen to their albums multiple times? I'm sure the music-only version is all well and good for fans of the music, but what about the original intent of the artist? Shouldn't that be respected, as well?
Psychoderelict is a wonderful story with suspense, drama, comedy, and pathos. The twist at the end enhances the experience and does not ruin subsequent listens, as one discovers "clues" laid throughout that point to that end. I have also found great joy in introducing others to this album and watching their faces while they listen to this great album. They invariably ask to borrow it, have me make them a copy, or, at best, go out and buy their own. Of course, I have only chosen people who I thought would be good subjects. Talent wasted on unappreciative minds is simply a disaster.
Psychoderelict is also simply classic Townshend and should be appreciated by all fans, if not of Pete's, then of the genre of musical radio play, of which there are regrettably few.
I would like to see more of this type of experimentation; shake things up a bit.
Other concept albums I've reviewed
Mt. Eerie by the Microphones -- The most marvelous concept work I've heard in years!