Are any albums more unfortunately misunderstood than the fourth album from Gene Clark, No Other? At the time, its epic songs and over-the-top production seemingly bore no relation to his country rock solo work or his work with The Byrds. The critics quickly made that a point of contention; thus the birth of the myth that its creation came out of drug hell. Furthermore, the exorbitant cost of the album upset Asylum label head David Geffen, his anger increasing when he learned the final album contained only eight tracks.
Even in 2019, No Other still confounds; longtime followers of 4AD Records met the announcement of the box set with a mixture of confusion and disdain. (A particularly odd reaction, that; “The Strength Of Strings” rated as one of label founder Ivo Watts-Russell‘s favorite songs, and was impeccably covered by his project This Mortal Coil, which did much to raise interest in the album, helping make it the revered lost classic it rightly is.)
Yet give No Other a spin, and the confusion soon dissipates. Those who thought the album didn’t sound much like what he’d done before may have been put off by the admittedly heavy arrangements. Yet scratch the surface, you’ll discover Clark still making country rock, albeit a more abstract, cosmic one. “Life’s Greatest Fool” aches with the same potent longing as most Hank Williams songs, and though the production on the album version of the song could be distracting, the single version offered here positively beams in its slender form and slightly faster tempo, while “The True One” sounds like the best country rocker The Eagles never recorded. (Sid Griffin’s remastering job does clear the original album’s murkiness, and excellently makes No Other sound even more amazing.)
No Other was not the result of a drugged-out creation, as stated in the super biography offered. Those who worked with him recall Clark as clear-headed and focused. Sure, moments scattered through “From A Silver Phial” and “Some Misunderstanding” could lead one to make assumptions, but listen again. If anything, these numbers offer wistful reflections of the emptiness found in substance abuse. Furthermore, No Other was not a messy Smile-like creation, either; Clark came in extremely focused on what the album should sound like, and came in with eight new songs. The lone song let off of the final album, “Train Leaves Here In The Morning,” was an older song that he played with, but ultimately didn’t fit the vibe of the album.
No Other’s greatest moment comes at the end of side one, with “The Strength Of Strings.” Essentially a hymn to the power of music, what starts off quiet and mellow soon becomes a gospel number with some of the most potent slide guitar since All Things Must Pass. Halfway through the song, a drum hit unleashes something completely magical, the combination of harmonies and guitars enveloping the listener with the sound of Heaven itself. You’ll find yourself hitting the repeat button, simply to experience the song’s magical high once more.
As for the super deluxe edition of the album, it offers up two discs of sessions. If you’re new to Clark, the two-disc edition will suit you best; it offers the best of the session recordings, which don’t necessarily differ much from the released album. The third disc offers much rougher sketches and works in progress, clearly more intended for the hardcore fan. The book offered is impeccable and impressive, and while the price might be high, it is most definitely worth the cost. (The Super Deluxe Edition also features a documentary.)
No Other offers a powerful self-examination of a once-successful musician seeking the meaning of life and not finding it. Nor is it necessarily particularly different from what his contemporaries were doing. No Other might initially have offered confusion and frustration, but this set settles the rumors and puts the focus back on the music.
Purchase Gene Clark: No Other: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / 4AD Records