20 Years Ago Today: The Sundays' "Blind"





This is the fifth installment of my "20 Years Ago Today" series, where I write about a life-changing album on the exact date of its 20th anniversary (you can check out the previous ones here). Since I've been insanely busy this past week, I'm a few days late on this one: 20 years ago this past Saturday, October 20, 1992, The Sundays released what turned out to be my number one favorite album of all time, “Blind”.

I have now come to the most difficult point of my “20 Years Ago Today” series. For much of this retrospective gimmick, I have revisited the albums of my youth, which, save for Sonic Youth’s “Dirty” – an album I have listened to on and off for the last 20 years – have been largely gathering dust in my large cabinet at home. The thing about The Sundays’ “Blind” is that there never really was a prolonged period in the last two decades where I didn’t listen to it. It’s been in my regular rotation pretty much since I bought it in early 1994. I don’t know how to look back on it because I never really left it behind; it’s still, as far as I’m concerned, in the present.

For the rest of my life, I will not love an album more than I love The Sundays' "Blind". I don't remember most of my first experiences with the albums I grew up loving, but I somehow remember every piece of random detail about this particular album: the wait (I ordered it through legendary import store Groove Nation; it took 4-6 weeks for orders to arrive then), the day it arrived, how I marveled at its solemn sleeve design and stared and smelled the first CD I've ever owned, how I listened to the whole album on loop that night until I fell asleep.


I don't know what it says about me that The Sundays are my favorite band of all time. I suppose it means that I'm not cool, but that's not news anymore. I suppose it means that they perfected the confluence of two things I've loved about music since I was old enough to have consciousness: jangly British indie guitars and angelic female vocals. Or maybe it’s because the first full album of theirs that I listened to was also the most perfect album I’ve heard then and until now, and this is because my idea of perfection is anything that is sad and beautiful at the same time.

From the first moments of “Blind”, where Harriet Wheeler sings, “I feel fine, don’t wake me up yet,” your heart sinks from the sheer fragility of her high, tiny, and almost quivering voice, and the soft acoustic strumming that seems to echo from a distance. The album’s very first note pops in abruptly and simultaneously with its very first word: this is the sound of the rest of my life beginning. It was also serendipitous and somewhat prophetic that I was in bed at night the first time I listened to it because the album, to this day, sounds to me like a 42-minute lullaby, a comforting sonic presence that told me everything was going to be okay if I just closed my eyes and shut the rest of the world out.




“I feel fine, don’t wake me up yet ‘cause I feel tired…and we don’t need to work anymore now, open the ground up and slip down.”

I think the real reason why The Sundays are my favorite band of all time is because theirs have been the single most enduring influence in my life. Nothing has romanticized the comfort of loneliness more than Harriet Wheeler’s voice mixed with David Gavurin’s guitar.

My all-time favorite Sundays song is actually not in my all-time favorite Sundays album. It’s “You’re Not The Only One I Know” from their debut album “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic”. Because it’s my all-time favorite Sundays song, it’s also my all-time favorite song ever; it has the most sad-beautiful guitar sounds in the history of pop music and it features Harriet Wheeler at her level best: her voice soars, dips, curls, purrs, meanders in a virtual whisper, and then soars, dips, curls, purrs, and meanders all at the same fucking time near the end of the song. The first time I heard the song, I fell in love with it right away just from the way it sounded. It took me a while to finally understand what it was about. “You’re Not The Only One I Know” is an ode to loneliness, introverts, and socially-awkward people. “It’s perfectly fine to sleep in a chair from Monday ‘til Saturday,” Harriet sings. “And what is so wrong with talking out loud when I’m all alone?”


There’s a lot more of this fuck-the-world-isms in “Blind”. The song “On Earth” is about a “Sarah” who’s “walking on the edge of a knife…knows it’s the death of her.” Harriet sings to this Sarah: “You live and you learn you’re invisible.” At the end of the song, she offers some words of solace in classic Sundays fashion: “A Heaven on Earth is ours / but not now / I tell you when a Heaven on Earth is all ours / come on down.”

The best song in the album is “Love”, which also happens to be its most misleadingly titled song. For months in 1993, I was singing along to its chorus (from my sister’s cassette recording of a “Not Radio” episode in NU 107) “Love, love, love…just love yourself, love no one else.” When I finally got the CD, I skimmed through the lyrics sheet and found out it was actually “just love yourself like no one else.” Even at that moment, I couldn’t believe it; I swore Harriet was singing “love no one else.” The CD notes already corrected me, but I knew what I heard. The song that was burned in my brain was un-editable.



The most wonderful thing about adolescence is also simultaneously the most dangerous thing about it: the rush of discovery fools you into thinking this is the way things should be. The Sundays’ musical aesthetic was beautiful and perfect, in my own definition of the word. I listened to it as an introverted high school student, silently proud of the fact that no one else in my class knew they even exist. But The Sundays were the toast of the U.K. music press when they came out and effectively made the musical landscape cushier for The Cranberries years later. They definitely weren’t “invisible.” But this hardly mattered; I still wanted to be.

It’s hard for me to take stock of “Blind” because I never really got tired of listening to it, and therefore it sort of aged with me. I don’t mean “dated”, because it never did; it’s just that, unlike say, “Our Time in Eden” by the 10,000 Maniacs, which was like a bottle of wine I stashed in the cellar for so long, “Blind” was always open, forever filling my cup, so the taste can never take me back in time because it’s still very familiar. My life over the last couple of decades has been consistently and evenly associated with “Blind” and I still find myself sometimes longing for that “Heaven on Earth” that lonesomeness seemed to promise years ago, although it sounds fainter now, lost in the jangle of David Gavurin’s guitar and Harriet Wheeler’s melodic cry. I suppose I still listen to it because I know that perfection can only exist in a CD, not in real life where sadness can easily contaminate beauty and can rarely co-exist. And if 12 songs are all that’s left of the beautiful sadness of perfection I used to yearn, then I’ll never stop listening to them for as long as I live.


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image credits:
nolody.deviantart.com




14 comments :

Ted G said...

sorry I missed this article about possibly my favoutite album of all time too...

The Sundays Music said...

Harriet Wheeler's voice is to me something like Bach's piano and Mozart's violins, it's truly remarkable.

The Sundays Music said...

Harriet Wheeler's voice is to me something like Bach's piano and Mozart's violins, it's truly remarkable.

noodles said...

"Love yourself love no one else". This is what I've heard for 20 years.

Unknown said...

I too reminisce about this timeless band. Saw the video "here's where the story ends" in my last summer of high school and rushed to buy the cassette. Bought "Blind" the day it was released when I was in college... I had both albums in my cassette players at all times and can still recite most of their lyrics verbatim even to this day. They were the real deal, and I respect their very quiet and noble departure from the music industry. They were a masterpiece of sound and represented that quaint idea of "alternative" radio before it went mainstream. Nice blog post:)

Unknown said...

I too reminisce about this timeless band. Saw the video "here's where the story ends" in my last summer of high school and rushed to buy the cassette. Bought "Blind" the day it was released when I was in college... I had both albums in my cassette players at all times and can still recite most of their lyrics verbatim even to this day. They were the real deal, and I respect their very quiet and noble departure from the music industry. They were a masterpiece of sound and represented that quaint idea of "alternative" radio before it went mainstream. Nice blog post:)

jett said...

I love this album and was pleased to see i am not alone in marvelling at this beautifully crafted shoegazing sound.It might be classed as melancholic and dark but to me its soothing uplifting

Mojo_Risin said...

Just a quick comment to say I fully appreciate this post. I love Blind, though RW&A is my favorite Sundays album, and their albums are all also still in my song rotation. Smart lyrics sung beautifully with intricately delicate guitar work and simple production that never gets in the way of the song. These are the things about the Sundays that I've always loved and appreciated.

Mojo_Risin said...

Just a quick comment to say I fully appreciate this post. I love Blind, though RW&A is my favorite Sundays album, and their albums are all also still in my song rotation. Smart lyrics sung beautifully with intricately delicate guitar work and simple production that never gets in the way of the song. These are the things about the Sundays that I've always loved and appreciated.

Stuck_in_the Blind said...

It's been 22 years and **** I am stuck in the Blind.

Jim Chandler said...

Harriet Wheeler makes me believe in the world - like everything is going to turn out beautiful. No one else does that.

Michael Wiley said...

Damn, this is a good article. I think I have more of this relationship with Static and Silence, but man, you just totally nailed it.

Alex Almario said...

Appreciate it, Michael! I love Static and Silence too. It has its own personal story too.

Khikhob said...

I really enjoyed this article, and your vintage wine analogy is spot on. I love all three albums, and sometimes muse to myself as to which might be my favourite, then remember I don't have to choose -I have all three! The clarity and mellifluousness of Harriet's voice is unmatched. Then, of course, there are the lyrics!

 

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