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Arthur Russell - Another Thought

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Artist: Arthur Russell

Album: Another Thought

Label: Orange Mountain

Review date: Jun. 27, 2006

The death of great artists is usually followed by a resurgence of interest from fans and critics. In the case of Arthur Russell though, his death of AIDS in 1992 didn’t exactly have the Van Gogh effect, at least not immediately. Point Music released Another Thought, a stunning cross-section of Russell’s more intimate studio recordings, in 1993 to minor critical accolades and little else. Up to that point, Russell’s impact was mostly confined to the New York downtown art scene and a few disco diehards who fondly remembered Russell’s club-smash “Is It All Over My Face” from 1980. But that all changed in the first half of the oughts, with the reissue of some of Russell’s more important works and the subsequent revival of post-punk and space disco, two genres Russell helped define.

Unlike most compilations, however, Another Thought is not intended to be a career summary. Instead, producer Don Christensen presents Russell’s work in a loose narrative construction that follows the emotional arc of a relationship, starting with simpler themes like the thrill of new love (“A Little Lost”) and progressing towards more complex issues like maturity (“Losing my Taste for the Nightlife”) and existential doubt (“A Sudden Chill”). As a result, the collection holds together remarkably well, even when songs don’t sound completely fleshed out.

Whether or not these songs are actually fragments is hard to tell; Russell recorded extensively throughout the ’80s, but released only a handful of actual albums. For Another Thought, Christensen waded through a vast archive of 800 music reels recorded between 1982 and 1990. Interestingly though, it was another compilation of Russell’s work from this period – 2004’s Calling Out of Context – that helped ignite the recent interest in Russell’s work. Even more interesting is the fact that these two compilations sound almost nothing alike. Where Calling Out of Context leans on Russell’s homespun dance confections, Another Thought is far more subdued and meditative, concentrating instead on Russell’s vocals and impressionistic cello playing.

Lyrically, Russell is unfailingly romantic. Whether skipping with giddy exuberance or contemplating philosophical cul-de-sacs, Russell comes across as the type of boy who once jumped over puddles in the rain: “Lucky cloud in your sky / A little rain / A lot of fun.” Russell describes his kisses like an Eskimo describes snow, even if he favors subjective experience over quantitative. Even more important to Russell is the concept of security, which he subconsciously infuses into his silliest proclamations of love, as in “Hollow Tree”: “We could live together in a hollow tree / And be happy people for eternity.”

One caveat: with the revived interest in Russell’s work, it is tempting to read more into his lyrics than is actually there. A lyric about being alone becomes a foreboding meditation on death; a cheerful melody becomes bittersweet. Still, I’d guess that Russell never intended for any deep readings or analysis of his work. The fact that many of these songs were never released during his life indicates Russell’s personal, therapeutic relationship to his work. While this would seem to add a voyeuristic element to Another Thought, it actually highlights what is so special about Arthur Russell in the first place – his richly expressionistic voice, an instrument that says far more than any drum machine or cello ever could. Perhaps this is why Russell’s music endures; when all the production is stripped away, the listener actually gets closer to the beauty of Russell’s vision, which requires neither artifice nor hype to shine.

With the hipster gentrification of post-punk and disco has come a number of significant “discoveries” by the younger generation, including bands like ESG, A Certain Ratio, and Arthur Russell, all of whom produced legendary dance singles in the early ’80s. Hopefully, Russell’s diverse back-catalog and willingness to experiment will grant him some staying power when the scenesters move on to another flavor of the moment, because Russell’s music possesses something unmistakably eternal. Of course, pinning that genius down is as pointless as wondering why humans prefer a sunny day over a rainy one.

By Mark Griffey

Other Reviews of Arthur Russell

The Sleeping Bag Sessions

The World of Arthur Russell

Calling Out Of Context

World of Echo

First Thought Best Thought


Love is Overtaking Me

Read More

View all articles by Mark Griffey

Find out more about Orange Mountain

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