Sometime in 2002, I ridiculously managed to convince Uncut’s then-Reviews Ed to let me write a lead review of a CD I’d just bought online from a record label in Japan. According to the press release which accompanies this belated UK release for the same album, Plush’s “Fed”, I wrote that it was “The dazzling masterpiece he [Liam Hayes, Plush’s sole constant member] always threatened to produce.” Evidently not enough of a “dazzling masterpiece” for it to merit a UK release for six whole years.
But then, if we can dangerously assume that the supply of lost classics from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s must run out at some point in the next few years, it’s useful for a newer record to be the stuff of myth. I wrote quite a lot about the capricious career of Hayes a while back, when an excellent new song, “Take A Chance”, appeared on Youtube.. But to briefly reiterate the tangled history of “Fed”, legend has it that no record label (chiefly neither Drag City nor Domino, who’d released previous Plush music) could afford to foot the bill for the album: Hayes’ expansive vision had taken years to realise, and involved Earth Wind & Fire’s horn arranger, amongst other deluxe personnel.
Only a Japanese label called After Hours was prepared to make the investment. Drag City, though, ended up releasing an economically-pragmatic version of the album called “Underfed”, which stripped the songs back to Hayes’ original guide tracks (and consequently sounded closer in tone to the minimal piano ballads of the first Plush album, “More You Becomes You”).
I can’t imagine what precarious financial arrangement has resulted in a small UK indie, Broken Horse, getting the rights to “Fed” from Hayes, but it’s marvellous news that they have. “Fed”, I guess, is what many people would call a “critic’s album”, though I hate that phrase: the implication that it’s a record with a mystique and obscurity that only we privileged few can revel in. The thing is, most sane critics actually want the music they love to be heard by as many people as possible: generally, they write such hyperbolic things about artists because they want to share their discoveries, want to drag sundry geniuses out of penury and so on.
Which is why it fills me with such pleasure that “Fed” will, come August, actually be on sale as a grand and faintly absurd musical artefact in the UK (I’m not sure if it’s coming out on vinyl, but it feels like the sort of thing that deserves a 12-inch sleeve, at the very least). I mentioned Burt Bacharach in that last blog, though playing the album today it strikes me the stronger influence may be Jimmy Webb; perhaps his early ‘70s records like “Land’s End”, with those looming, portentous orchestrations.
There are also analogies with some of the ambitious soul of that same period, so that “Having It All”, for instance, begins as a diffident cousin of Marvin Gaye’s “Save The Children”. Hayes, of course, is far too awkward a singer and songwriter to pass himself off as a conventional soulman, and the tangential, quavering way he has with a tune might frustrate some classicists (again, that reference in the last blog to Will Oldham remains salient, I think).
But this is one worth persevering with, I think. “Somebody told me I was great, was it my mother?” ponders Hayes, wryly, in “Blown Away”. He’s some way off being venerated by millions, but hopefully, with this one, a few more people might be inducted into the Plush cult, at the very least.