Columbia Records Group
There’s a tremendous irony that really suits Grandaddy, it speaks to Jason Lytle’s mix of wry humour and honest world-weariness, the band’s sophomore album, called The Sophtware Slump (so knowing) would go on to be their best album; a milestone as near-millstone. They never made a bad record but the weight of that and the debut, Under The Western Freeway, was enough to eventually see the band collapse, implode; by the time of 2006’s Just Like The Fambly Cat Lytle was Grandaddy, just him and a drummer and you couldn’t really tell the difference. Lytle’s solo albums sounded like Grandaddy, but with something missing – and it wasn’t just a drummer. It was the brand, the persona, the embodiment, the mythos.
So, after 2012’s reunion shows we arrive, five years on from there, at the sound of Grandaddy in 2017. And Last Place feels like a reunion, feels like an honest try at getting to the sound of Western Freeway and Sophtware, and maybe particularly 2003’s Sumday without repeating itself, without just circling around the sound.
Turns out Lytle has plenty to say, plenty of refreshingly bleak homilies (I Don’t Wanna Live Here Anymore/That’s What You Get For Getting’ Outta Bed) and is still able to masterfully go widescreen on dreamy pop symphonies that play to distinct fans of The Beach Boys and The Zombies, or Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev (The Boat Is In The Barn); that somehow speak across generations while being the ideal embodiment of any Generation X/Slacker trope, setting aside any of the snot and/or snootiness within indie/alt-pop for a loping country/alt-country gait (This Is The Part).
Last Place is, in that sense, the sound of Grandaddy all grown up – happy as can be, and back to show you, but never with anything close to an idea of boasting. It’s a catch up with an old friend – you’re pleased to know where they are at, they’re here to remind you that you had some times. There are some achingly beautiful orchestrations and production ideas and in revisiting Jed (from Sophtware), this time in a track called Jed The 4th, Lytle finds a way to renew his Chinaski-type alter-ego. As soon as the song sweeps into view we’re reminded how much we care about this downcast figure. The mini-epic tragi-comic story-songs of Grandaddy feel just right for this time too, politically, socially. We’ve become the jaded sucked-into-the-machine types that were prophesised in part by Lytle back at the turn of the millennium. And to hear this heartbreak-as-stoicism is to arrive at a soundtrack for the sleepwalk between real and ‘virtual’ relationships. The way the piano frames a near-whisper on A Last Machine, the plaintive acoustic strum on the closing Songbird Son, almost everything here feels like an epitaph of sorts. Scribbled into place to sit just so.
It’s lovely – and just the right type of unsettling – to have Grandaddy back, to have these little cubicle-worker homilies. Once again.