The first time I encountered Spirit of Eden I was 19. I got a battered copy from a public library and was a little baffled. The noise sounded warm but didn’t grab me. Frankly, it sounded like a lot of contemporary bands I’d already heard with no immediacy to force my index finger away. I hadn’t the heart to think bad thoughts, and something in my head (gut/same thing?) was telling me that it should be me with the inferiority complex. This was some slightly alien tasteful kitchenware, rather than a progressive vegetable. Nonetheless, I went back to ill-harboured revenge fantasies about customers.
Around three years later, I had another listen. I could call it an epiphany, or self maturity, but most pertinently I listened when I was too knackered to fret over anything else. I’d been reviewing Sonic Youth’s EVOL recently, and there are some comparisons between the two albums’ lack of immediacy and ability to delight a static, tired listener. The former succeeds as lush melodies and thoughts glisten through bulletin board rage ideally suited to a tired, mildly frustrated evening. In Spirit of Eden nothing is concrete, but the oblique uncertainty is uplifting. After the transitionary success of 1986’s The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden saw traces of synthetic pop supplanted by something approaching post-rock.
Perhaps one could describe this as a 1980s equivalent of a mid-point between Kid A and OK Computer. This is the sound of a band embracing experimentalism with an intrinsic talent for catchy song structures. “Desire” bears a touch of resemblance to Oxford developed compositions like “The National Anthem” or “Airbag.” The use of organs, climbing guitars and off-kilter beats will be all too familiar to Radiohead fans. Mark Hollis astounds vocally, too. “Inheritance” puts Bono, Yorke and Jeff Buckley into context. Fans of Grace and Takk might notice a comparative emotional headspace, albeit one which trades some theatricality for VH1 killer polish. “Eden” has the earthy rattle of Ben Christophers’ My Beautiful Demon and a purity pill depiction of George’s Polyserena. “Wealth” could almost compete with Crowded House or the Police, but wouldn’t seem amiss at a Boards of Canada convention. Nowadays I can listen to Spirit of Eden whenever. It’s a milestone in polished, exquisite guitar music, and far better than any review can convey.