“Left alone in the sweet store / High times laying low on the floor”
Swervedriver probably deserves more respect than they get. ‘Shoegaze’ and ‘grunge’ were nearly pinned on them, before their kinder, gentler side prevailed on the barely released Ejector Seat Reservation (1995). 99th Dream, their last album of their initial decade run (it would be 17 years before the next one) confounded everybody, even fans, and almost disappeared too after a blown Geffen deal. I give it black sheep status because you’re lucky to get one of these songs if you see them live these days, but I’ve always thought it solid, top-to-bottom, with a more organic, timeless sound than their sometimes shrill, overloaded production. It’s probably got the least iconic of their covers though, too bad—they were exiting the regrettable dreadlocked phase and their Play-Doh counterparts only accentuate them.
The ripping Dick Dale lines that open the title song tease a more frenetic pace, before they settle into a cozier cruising altitude. Here they aptly define what they do as “Space Travel Rock ‘n’ Roll” which was also the name of their last EP. A title like “Up From The Sea” suggests a creature emerging from the depths, in this case a lovely siren of sorts that “becomes the song I breathe / she sings what I can’t say” and the joy is punctuated with some pure pop do do do do do’s. “She Weaves A Tender Trap” borrows only that much from the Chocolate Watch Band, and is a soaring acoustic ballad. The brief “These Times” pulls off the neat trick of nostalgia for the present. It’s as radio-friendly as they get, and anybody who happened to tune it in in their convertible would be nodding before they know it. I don’t share their obsession with car culture, but enjoy unencumbered trips a la “Electric 77.” Floating easy, this less earthbound Stellar Caprice (of the Chevy sort I presume, but also the name of the instrumental that follows) builds in intensity before a smooth landing. Lyrics register only fleetingly with me (“Bakelite, satellite / Frisbee flight through Sunday”) and on this close listen I caught some very T. Rex silliness about “unidentified flying hubcabs.”
“Wrong Treats,” comes out with a booming sway, and is simply one of their greatest songs. “You’ve Sealed My Fate” is a bit outsized in its drama, which is probably why it appealed to my younger self and was included on several mixtapes I made for others. Jauntily acoustic to start, you know it won’t be long before a pedal is depressed on “In My Time” and we’re soon enveloped by some swirling effects overhead. Similarly, “Expressway” begins warm and easy, but grows more remote with a processed vocal and squawking guitars (heavy for sure, but still can’t figure how this of all things made it onto a skateboarding comp). Though epic in length “Behind the Scenes of The Sounds & The Times” thrills me the least songwriting-wise, but is somehow one of the very few from this album deemed worthy of a spot on their 2CD anthology (what! no “Wrong Treats”?). It’s fine as a closer, and really only overstays its welcome in the sense that it pushes the already long LP capacity (the Geffen version of “These Times” is probably better but also a minute longer, and there’s not that kind of room here). Oh—this came with a 7” too but it’s pretty much the aforementioned final EP so I’m not going to get into that now.
I’ve no deep insights into how this album works for me, it’s just always been a transportative listen. These songs are chock full of hooks and melodies and I don’t know how they’ve managed to elude so many people who should know better. But “I’m not waiting for the world to get it.”