Hebrew School


Spirit

Spirit, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970)

When this album started speaking to me in tongues over the din of last year’s record fair, it didn’t explain itself to me as an unsung concept masterpiece. Only that it was old and a little scratchy, had a scary looking cover, and cost four dollars– along with some other gibberish about Orwell, animals and various states of the psyche. It was authored by an acclaimed band I had read about in music magazines when I was a kid, but never really checked out.

Sardonicus marked the end of a highly productive time for Spirit, who released their debut in 1968 and quickly followed with three more albums, including a soundtrack to a Jacques Demy film. This fifth album is also notable as the final time the band would record with their original lineup (before an unfortunately lackluster reunion in 1982, and then another etc., etc.).

Readers– or people who listened to FM radio in the ’70s– might be familiar with the hit, “Nature’s Way,” a darkish song concerning the crepuscular quality of both life and death. I love the beauty of this track, which exploits an interplay of pensive folk rock and Bolan-esque protoglam. The standout Hebrew School favorite would have to be “Love Has Found a Way,” which pits a maliciously psychedelic, backwards-tracked verse against a chorus marked by a quiet, descending diatonic chord progression and contrapuntal vocal lines.

Like the epic counterparts of its era, this record is brilliant as an entire piece from start to finish. Yet even in the two tracks I’ve just mentioned, we can clearly see the clairvoyance that Randy California and his crew had about seemingly every aspect of ’70s rock thenceforth. The persistence of a folk ethos, the sing-songy extended harmonies tinged with jazz that would become the hallmark of that decade (read: America, Bread), that indeterminate space where ’60s psych morphed into glam (read: early Tyrannosaurus Rex, Comus) and heavy metal (Spirit having toured with Led Zeppelin early on, who cited them as an inspiration), the deliberate juxtaposition of soft and hard edges.

An extremely satisfying and inspiring listen, through the lead-out, beyond the lock groove.

***

“Nature’s Way”

It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song
It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong

It’s nature’s way of telling you, summer breeze
It’s nature’s way of telling you, dying trees
It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong
It’s nature’s way, it’s nature’s way
It’s nature’s way, it’s nature’s way

It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong
It’s nature’s way of telling you
In a song, oh-h

It’s nature’s way of receiving you
It’s nature’s way
It’s nature’s way of retrieving you
It’s nature’s way
It’s nature’s way of telling you
Something’s wrong, something’s wrong, something’s wrong

More at The Wizard.

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