957 - Shawn Mullins 'Soul's Core' (1998)

My Rating: 1.92 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 60/54

Favourite Tracks: Tannin Bed Song, Twin Rocks Oregon, Ballad Of Billy Joe McKay
Least-Favourite Tracks: Shimmer, Soul Child, And On A Rainy Night, Lullaby

Shawn Mullins is not exactly a household name. Even in the Mullins household I’ll bet some people have never heard of him. So to find one of his records in the Top 1000 means that either; (a) he released a fantastic album that never got the exposure it deserved or (b) he released a rather ordinary album that just happened to be popular when the Top 1000 was compiled. Sadly, I have to report that the answer is (b).

That’s one of the problems with getting people to vote on these lists; they often confuse the greatest with the latest. And back in 1998, when the All-Time Top 1000 book was being compiled, Shawn was the latest, Grammy-nominated, singer-songwriter riding high in the US charts, so when they asked the public to vote for the greatest album ever, Soul’s Core inevitably bagged plenty of votes. A decade later & I’d bet my house on the fact that this record wouldn’t get a sniff of the Top 1000.

For a start there seem to be two very different Shawn Mullins on this album. On one hand we have Shawn the stoner-surf-dude, a travelling troubadour knocking out an earnest set of songs on his acoustic guitar. But on tracks like Lullaby & Shimmer, we get Mullins the media product, his songs forced through a marketing mincer to create an easily-digestible slop for MTV’s toothless target audience. Why’d you let them do it Shawn? I’ll bet Lullaby sounded just fine when you busked it out the back of your VW Combi, but once the Suits got their greasy fingers on it, it became an over-produced, anthemic mess. They turned you into a chart-topping star & then they turned their backs on you once the cash registers stopped ringing & left you languishing in one-hit wonderland.

So Lullaby proved something of a double-edged sword; it was the reason why most people rushed out to buy this album, but also the reason why many of them found the other country-tinged songs such a letdown. Even at Amazon.com, the home of the ubiquitous 5-star review, you find a surprising number of disgruntled voices who “bought this CD for Lullaby” but complain that it’s the “only decent song” & the others are “boring” or “dull”. For me it’s the other way round; I think the album works best when Mullins drops the pop-hit-by-numbers formula & sticks to something a little more heartfelt & personal. He’s got a good voice with a pleasing gravelly tone & the simpler acoustic numbers like The Ballad of Billy Joe McKay or Twin Rocks, Oregon work well (in a singing-round-the-campfire kind of way).

Lyrically it wanders through familiar Tom Waits territory with semi-spoken tales of drifters, dropouts, dope & drinking. I liked the simple, wistful sentiments of tracks like Tannin Bed Song ("this Kansas life is a hard one / for a girl from Miami / just staring out at the oil fields / and that's all that I can see") but elsewhere it just gets mired in hackneyed phrases & clich├ęs (e.g., Soul Child’s trite chorus of "Be strong / Hold on / Stay wild / Soul child"). And doesn’t it seem a little contrived to mention being stoned in at least 3 songs?

So I suppose if we were compiling a list of inconsistent, over-produced & unremarkable albums then this might be in with a shout. But since we’re talking about the 1000 greatest albums ever made, I think it’s probably high time that we moved on.


crowbarred said...

Welcome back buddy ... site looks good too! Would love to know how you do half the stuff.

Alan Heller said...

Thanks mate - really good to hear from you. That's one of the benefits of being ill - I've had plenty of time to mess around with the blog design. Probably doing everything back-to-front but drop me an email if you want any codes or anything like that. It'd be nice to return the favour after the help you gave me.

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