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Music: Songs For A Blue Guitar

In 1996, Slowcore band Red House Painters were exhausted from endless touring and recording. After 4 years of tiring work, the band decided it was time for a break. Mark Kozelek, the leader of the band decided to pursue a solo career just for kicks. Songs For A Blue Guitar was the resulting album to come from this.

The album was known for its troubled production. After the minimalist atmosphere set in their previous album, Ocean Beach, Kozelek wanted to venture off into more experimentation and different styles. This caused the album to have a much more "Southern" feel to it. He also started to use much more guitar feedback and noise production for texture purposes. The result didn't impress 4AD president Ivo Watts-Russell and he threw RHP off the label over something as petty as a guitar solo (namely the one on "Make Like Paper").

In desperation, Mark signed with Island Records to get the album released by its scheduled due date to please fans. The label, fearing lack of sales and profitability off of Kozelek's name alone, demanded it be listed as an RHP album. Mark gave in and the album was released in 1997 to lukewarm critical reviews.

The album is full of reworkings of three cover songs that sound nothing like their originals, surprisingly uplifting lyrics from Kozelek who usually wrote about borderline-suicidal subjects, and most importantly completely transforming RHP's sound and giving way to what was to come with Kozelek's future project Sun Kil Moon.

The album's been Vindicated by History (more so than any other RHP release) and is often cited as the seminal Kozelek experience. Starting off with a 3-and-a-half star rating on Allmusic in its original release to getting frequent 5-star reviews on later publications, it is now widely regarded as a classic in Folk Rock and Slowcore.


Songs For A Blue Guitar contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Concept Album- The album seems to be about the passage of time and about the strange feeling of growing up and watching the people around you change.
  • Disproportionate Retribution- Meta-example. Kozelek and RHP were thrown off their label by 4AD head Ivo-Watts Russell over a guitar solo.
  • Epic Rocking- "Make Like Paper" spans 12 minutes and the originally 3-minute-long "Silly Love Songs" was transformed into an 11-minute-long Tear Jerker.
  • In The Style Of- The three covers on this album were reworked to the point where they were nearly unrecognizable to their originals.
    • "All Mixed Up"- Originally by The Cars, the song was known for being the finale of their classic Self-Titled Album. The song originally sounded epic and haunting, but in the hands of Kozelek, it takes on a whole new level of sentimentality that the original never had.
    • "Silly Love Songs"- Originally by Paul McCartney, this was a popular radio hit that was just an upbeat accessible hit. Not only did Kozelek extend it to 11 minutes, but he opens it up with a borderline atonal guitar solo that puts immense focus on the leading tone of the key (something really unusual for a melodic structure). He then turned it into a full-out Tear Jerker that could make anyone with even a shred of emotion ball.
  • Lighter and Softer- In comparison to the menacing Codeine-like sound of their previous albums (both lyrically and musically).
  • Misblamed - Ivo-Watts Russel is often blamed for the dumping of RHP off of the 4AD label, but, in actuality, it was actually the badly managed American branch of the label that made the decision. Russell later made the remark that the dropping of the band was one of the label's "biggest mistakes", cluing us in that it was probably because of Warner Bros. that the band suffered the blow.
  • Troubled Production- As seen above.


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