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 Records, who threw Red House Painters 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 Red House Painters album. Mark gave in and the album was released in 1997 to lukewarm critical reviews.
The album is full of reworkings of three Cover Versions that sound nothing like their originals, surprisingly uplifting lyrics from Kozelek who usually wrote about borderline suicidal subjects, and most importantly completely transforming Red House Painters'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 Red House Painters release) and is often cited as the seminal Kozelek experience. Starting off with a 3 and a half star rating on Allmusic.com 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.
- "Have You Forgotten?" (6:13)
- "Songs for a Blue Guitar" (5:59)
- "Make Like Paper" (12:03)
- "Priest Alley Song" (4:34)
- "Trailways" (6:41)
- "I Feel the Rain Fall" (2:35)
- "Long Distance Runaround" (4:41)
- "All Mixed Up" (5:50)
- "Revelation Big Sur" (5:48)
- "Silly Love Songs" (11:00)
- "Another Song for a Blue Guitar" (5:07)
Tropes for a Blue Guitar:
- Album Title Drop: "Songs for a Blue Guitar."
- 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 Red House Painters were thrown off their label 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.
- Lighter and Softer: In comparison to the menacing Codeine like sound of their previous albums (both lyrically and musically).
- Misblamed: 4AD founder Ivo-Watts Russell is often blamed for the dumping of Red House Painters off of the label, but, in actuality, it was actually the company's badly managed American branch that made the decision. Russell later remarked that dropping the band was one of the label's "biggest mistakes," cluing us in that it was probably because of Warner (Bros.) Records, 4AD's American distributor at the time, that the band suffered the blow.
- Questioning Title?: "Have You Forgotten?"
- Rearrange the Song: 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 Wings, 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 bawl.
- Silly Love Songs: "Silly Love Songs," a Wings cover.