Final album from rock’s last true maverick is a rollercoaster ride of heartache and lounge lizard garage rock
Earlier this year a true maverick of alternative music passed away. Dave Cloud was only 58 years old when in February he died of a long undetermined illness. Throughout his career Cloud made an uncompromising blend of outsider garage rock and pulp fiction style poetry. If you think of The Stooges covering Neil Diamond while a very inebriated and mumbling Charles Bukowski fronts the whole thing you’re on the right track.
Cloud’s final album has now been released, the uncannily morbidly titled Today is the Day That They Take Me Away. It’s everything we’ve gone to expect from the “garage rock lounge lizard extraordinaire”. At just shy of ninety minutes, it’s the longest album in Cloud’s canon, but given the nature of the recording process, Cloud was alleged to be writing and recording new songs up until his death, this is his White Album.
During the first listen Today is the Day That They Take Me Away doesn’t appear to have any inroads. It’s all too dense and boggy, and just when you think you’ve found a route, you’re marooned in a swamp. Some tracks sound like they were recorded trough an inch of treacle as you can’t make the music out apart from a wall of muffled noise and primal grunty vocals. However the more you listen, the more you pick out. Luscious melodies shoulder barge lo-fi garage boogie bangers. Opening track ‘Bimbo’ fades in quietly then jumps straight into what only sounds like a Velvet Underground jam track at the Factory in 1969. This motif is used a few times throughout and album. When Cloud’s vocals finally emerge the verses are garbled and the chorus is “Bimbo. You’re my number one, you’re number one. Bimbo. You’re my only one, you’re my only one” is grunted more or less in time. As with all great Dave Cloud tracks the lyrics sound spontaneous, almost to the point that he didn’t realise what he was going to sing until he’d sung them. ‘Just Like You’ follows on musically and lyrically. Cloud growls “It’s just like you to take everything for granted girl. What about that brand new ring, that string of pearls?” Even near the end of his life, women problems weren’t far away. ‘DNA’ is more melancholic and reflective “I’m not a loser anymore. You know what I’m living for”. Is this aimed at us, an ex or the grim reaper himself? An organ keeps everything grounded as Cloud’s vocals rasp and grate over twangy lead guitar and scratchy acoustics.
The title track musically sounds like a cover of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ by someone who’s had a guitar for twenty minutes and is playing along but not knowing any of the notes or chords. What could have been a real tear jerker, is in fact a joyous and life affirming jaunt. This is the power of Cloud’s music. Even when things are looking bad, Cloud still manages to create a good time vibe. The next few tracks feel like a suite. ‘Thieving Love Bandit’, ‘Party Girl’, ‘He Not a She’ and ‘400 Girls’ are all slow burners on which Cloud really lets rip not only with this blend of romantically forlorn beat poetry, but with his reimaging of lounge music. Slow and sleazy is the order of the day. The real star of the show is lead single ‘Damn, Damn, Damn, Damn’. This is quite possibly the most touching song Cloud ever released. When he croons “All my life, I’ve been looking for alabaster girl” you’re heart breaks as you never know if he found her or not. Sources close to Cloud said he considered it the best thing he ever wrote. The rest of the album is upbeat and classic Cloud. The only curve ball happens on ‘Oh No, She’s Mine’. At just shy of ten minutes is sounds like a recorded jam session that Cloud and co were either enjoying too much to stop or a thought out free jam based around a rigid rhythmic structure. Overall it doesn’t matter as it shows side to Cloud’s career and is the fitting final memory of this his farewell album.
You could never say that Cloud’s previous albums were ‘polished’ but Today is the Day That They Take Me Away has more in common with early albums Songs I Will Always Sing, All My Best. Murky production coupled with indecipherably opaque lyrics are in contrast to the slick production of his 2008 album Practice in the Milky Way. It almost as if Cloud has gone full circle and ended where he started, plundering the 1960s garage sound and swagger while and shouting into the well of rock. That being said Today is the Day They Take Me Away is a fitting closure to an original and unique career. At times the album is overwhelming and fractured, but so was Cloud and his existing back catalogue. Would the album have been more concise at only seventeen tracks? Possibly. Would it have been more enjoyable? Not a chance! What we are left with are twenty seven tracks from one of alternative rock’s more individual and distinctive talents. Which is passing the hold of inertia over contemporary music got a little tighter. Damn, damn, damn, damn…