Being a devoted fan can be a very communal or private act, depending on the artist. When you follow a massively successful act like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, you are literally one of millions who love their music, and that is a powerful and uniting sensation. However, there are times when an artist or band connects in a way with you that seemingly only you can appreciate, and there is something very personal and unique with that affinity. I first heard the Sundays in the early ‘90s as I was looking for new music to appreciate. It probably started with their relatively successful single “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, off of their first album, “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic” which was released in 1990. While I love that song, the rest of the album didn’t connect with me at the time, and to this day, it still doesn’t grab me other than that one great track.
That all changed for me in 1992, with the release of their second album, “Blind”. The point of entry for me and probably most who have heard the record is their cover of “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones, but as beautiful as that song is, it probably doesn’t crack my top five favorite songs on an album that has become an all-time favorite. As I have told many over the years, if I could only take ten albums with me to a desert island, this would be one of them. Most of my music listening during this time was in the car commuting to work and back, so the Sundays were my own personal obsession of the day.
A four-person band, the Sundays are primarily defined by the lovely and talented Harriet Wheeler on vocals and her partner/husband David Gavurin on guitar. While Wheeler’s dreamy vocals are what you first notice, the creativity and orchestration of the guitar performances really frame this great sound. With many British artists, you have to strain to hear their accent, but with the Sundays, their sound is wholly British with each word, which I absolutely love. Some have compared their sound to a more guitar-based version of the Cocteau Twins, another band I have grown to really appreciate. That isn’t an unreasonable reference, but the sound of the Sundays is unique just the same.
The album opens with the hopeful optimism of “I Feel”, and the pairing of Wheeler and Gavurin is charming and alluring from the beginning. The layered guitars and multi-track harmony vocals fill in the sound in a way that becomes very familiar on this record. One of the more up-tempo songs, “Goodbye”, which became the first single on the record, rhythmically rushes through its paces while lingering in a dreamy state through the bridge into its outro. This tradeoff of driving guitar and Harriet’s singing makes this song a favorite of mine.
There are two or three songs on this record that somehow transform me to another place, where I envision myself walking alone on an isolated country field or trail, completely immersed in fog and mist, perhaps in line with the cool climate of the UK. “Life and Soul” is the first of these songs; it is a beautiful song that really finds its place about halfway through the track, leading into a gorgeous outro that is unforgettable in its simple reflection.
As I have discussed before, one thing I love about a really good song is when it builds on a simple melody and chord structure into something bigger and more powerful as the song evolves. U2 has always been one of the very best in this style, and the Sundays find that magic on “More”. Simple in structure, by the time it reaches the third verse, around the two-minute mark, the added guitar tracks around the chords elevate a good song to great, and this is another song I absolutely love, especially how it transforms from beginning to end.
“On Earth” is probably my second favorite song on the record, and once again I’m back in the misty mountains, lost in the wandering magic of this song. For such an unacclaimed duo, it is stunning to me how good this music is, and it is always an emotional and impactful return when I come back to this song.
Next, we have my all-time favorite song by the Sundays, “God Made Me”. It is nothing more than a simple drum intro, followed by a two-chord alternation by Gavurin. However, somehow this song has always captured me like few others, and the story-telling from Wheeler on this song is profound and remarkable. Emerging from her pre-programmed life that most of us are confronted with growing up, she embraces that one can be spiritual and still love life on earth while pursuing happiness in our present moment.
“God made me, That’s what they told me before, Who knows what they’ll say today?”
“Because God made me for his sins, Imagine my eyes when I first saw, We can do what we want…”
Following this powerful realization, the outro begins with the same two chords amplified with a soaring alternate melody overlayed as Harriet asks, “How could I know?” I fully recognize that few will love this album or specifically this song the way I do, which is perfectly fine, and the individualism of our own tastes makes each of our journeys in life special and unique even as they are intertwined with others.
“Love”, probably their most successful single from the album, is another beautiful self-realization that we have to start with our own happiness to find happiness among others, and the bouncy, up-tempo melody brings hope and confidence to that lofty goal.
Three of the next four tracks aren’t quite as impactful to me, although embedded in these is the third of my misty trail songs, “24 Hours”. Another soft song of introspective self-discovery amidst a budding relationship, this song is the source of the album title. “I was blind, but now I’m still blind… And when the time has come to live again, I shall. And I liked you for 24 hours in your house, and now the time has come to live again, I shall…” Clearly, as you dig deeper into the very unusual history of this band, you will realize the music came from a remarkable combined talent and love of two performers who just happened to find each other at the right time and place.
As I mentioned earlier, the first glimpse for many came on their cover of “Wild Horses”. Not surprisingly, I absolutely love this version. It is softer and less caustic when sung by the voice of a female, and the intertwined acoustic and electric guitar create the perfect backdrop for this elevation of a good song to greatness. It is an impactful end to an impactful album, and if you don’t listen to the entire album, I certainly encourage to at least add this emotional testament to your playlist.
There will be more to come from the Sundays, but perhaps not enough…