Until about 30 minutes before we met, I had little intention of playing Satisfied Mind to Rob and Nick. But while listening to my intended choice – Maxinquaye by Tricky – I decided that although it still stands as a monumental piece of work, it was just too well known by myself and my fellow members. Seventeen (!) years on from its release, Maxinquaye has not lost none of its power to astonish, but perhaps its ability to surprise has diminished – I felt on listening to it the other day prior to the meeting that I had pretty much worked it out already, that listening again would be unlikely to reveal anything new and therefore I switched at the last minute to an album that I know far less well but admire all the same. And although none of the album’s worth of covers on Satisfied Mind sound as radical or daring as Tricky’s amazing re-working of Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, Satisfied Mind achieves something elegant and subtle in the way it unites old and new into a pretty much seamless whole.
Satisfied Mind is a lovely, blissful and predominantly calm(ing) hour’s worth of vaguely traditional American sounding music that is unlikely to change your life but is, for me, a rare treat – an easy listen that does not tire with familiarity. It sets its stall out early with the title track, a lilting, gentle waltz that is perhaps reminiscent of Tom Waits at his most tuneful or Nick Cave in his Boatman’s Call phase. It comes as no surprise then that Mr Cave himself gets the treatment on the second track (Loom of the Land from Henry’s Dream) and the comparison of these two covers serves to highlight the album’s rationale. By linking a well loved standard of the 50s to a song written by the man who gave us Junkyard, The First Born is Dead and The Mercy Seat, the Walkabouts manage to strip away the accoutrements of the original arrangements, suggesting in the process that music of different eras is much more closely connected than we sometimes realise.
The challenge for the evening was to bring two versions of the same song and on the night Free Money by Patti Smith was the cover of choice for no better reason than that I have always found Nick Cave’s Loom of the Land a bit of a snooze, I love John Cale’s Buffalo Ballet but we’ve already had an album by him and I don’t have the original of any of the other songs on the record. But, for me, it’s the lesser known tracks they cover (Robert Forster’s The River People, The Carter Family’s The Storms are on the Ocean and Will You Miss me When I’m Gone, Shelter for the Evening by Gary Heffern) that work the best. But the jewel in the crown has to be the unimpeachable Feel Like Going Home, an immense slab of American music that navigates a astonishing breadth of musical territory in its eight and a half minutes, starting off with a simple guitar motif, reminiscent of Dead Flowers from Sticky Fingers and ended in a gloriously electric slow-burn.
The Walkabouts on Satisfied Mind do a fantastic job of creating an affecting and affectionate homage to American folk, indie, rock and punk and, in so doing, serve to remind us that these genres are much closer relatives than they might at first appear. And whilst it might not change your life, it’s surely worth a listen?!
Nick listened: To be frank, I really wish Tom had stuck to his guns and played Maxinquaye and Public Enemy’s original version of Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos, as I think it’d have inspired a lot of debate. Certainly more than The Walkabouts managed; there was nothing wrong with this album of covers, and, not knowing most of the songs, it hung together rather admirably, it just didn’t really do it for me. I know the alt.country aesthetic is catnip to some people, but beyond a bit of Lambchop and Wilco it’s not really a genre I’m interested in.
Rob listened: I was expecting to hear Maxinquaye at some point this evening. It was the first thing that sprang to my mind when Tom chose his ‘same song, two different records’ theme. I don’t think i’ve quite worn it out yet, but I understand where Tom is coming from. Ultimately I wavered away from choosing ‘Slanted and Enchanted’, despite really wanting to play the lovely Tindersticks version of ‘Here’, for similar reasons.
I think i’m mostly with Tom when it comes to the record he did finally choose. Despite only really knowing a handful of the songs, or perhaps for that very reason, ‘Satisfied Mind’ hung together pretty well as an album. As I recall the discussion was pretty good. I remember getting wound up at one point about whether the chap singing was deliberately choosing his vocal lines to avoid being shown up by his female companion, who was streets ahead of him. Sometimes records can just be pleasantly pleasant, and this seemed like one of those.