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Undoubtedly, at least part of that wide attraction comes from the Glands' aforementioned familiarity with years of pop-music history. Shapiro himself venerates the Isley Brothers and the O'Jays, and recently took in shows by Radiohead and Tony Bennett -- on separate bills, presumably. Of Bennett's performance, Shapiro reports, "It started out kind of shaky. I think he was searching for his range at the beginning, but then, after a few songs, he really kicked in. Yeah, he was great. He's still got it."
In a slow and sympathetic drawl that places the sprawling musical dialects of The Glands -- particularly the Beatles-esque touches in its production -- deep in the southeastern U.S., Shapiro recalls that putting together their last record didn't go any more smoothly than the current one.
"We'd been recording a little bit, piecemeal, before we did anything with Capricorn. But once we got a little money, we were able to go in and do things faster. Still, though, it took a few months. Some of the songs had been recorded way earlier than others. Some had been recorded at the very beginning of the process, but right before we finished, we re-recorded them to see if we could get it a little bit better. Some we were writing while we were in the studio, and some we'd been playing live for a while before we recorded them. A lot of times, though, it was kind of trial and error."
Hearing Shapiro talk about the construction of The Glands as in any way "piecemeal" is particularly surprising given the harmonious nature of the final document. Here's an album, as many reviewers pointed out, that took elements of the past twenty years of pop history and incorporated them almost seamlessly. Sometimes too seamlessly: "I Can See My House From Here," a rolling, full-harmony voice showcase with minimal instrumentation, originally copped its faint backing piano line from Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons' "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)." When word got back to Valli, he was amiable, but songwriter Robert Gaudio balked, and the offending part (as the law books phrase it) was subsequently removed.
But you see what we're talking about. From the beginning, the Glands were the kind of outfit that knew its history, a band able to incorporate elements from its progenitors without sounding like dumb imitators. That's the reason a towering, shimmering set piece like "Mayflower" can call to mind "Strawberry Fields Forever" and sound like a genuine and accomplished homage, right down to the synth flutes and doubled voices. In the hands of a lesser band, "Mayflower" would come off as coordinated as a fifteen-year-old boy in the backseat, fumbling at the catch of his first brassiere.
However, it's that very kid whose voice seems to snake through The Glands with a remarkable persistence, that awkward and unsure boy whose inner soundtrack is openly displayed throughout the record. "Why did I go?" Shapiro asks himself on the album's opener. "I had it so easy/I had a room of my own/And the weather so warm." And later: "Stay in one place," he says to himself. "Someday everything will come our way."
Asked about the Glands' lyrical content, Shapiro seems understandably reticent to delve too deeply into its sources. "It isn't a conscious thing, to produce any theme or thread like that. Maybe some of the songs are deeper than others."
Here he pauses for several seconds. "I guess for some of them, I'm just kind of writing things that are in my head, and I don't really expect anyone to understand them." Longer pause. "Like now," he says, laughing. "I'll just start rambling. For me, I know what I'm talking about. But I don't know if anybody else would."
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