Blue Skied An’ Clear: An appreciation of Slowdive’s Pygmalion

Blue Skied An’ Clear: An appreciation of Slowdive’s <i>Pygmalion</i>
Slowdive / Pygmalion

Conventional wisdom holds that Slowdive’s second album Souvlaki is their masterpiece – certainly it’s my go-to of their catalog – but the critical re-evaluation Pygmalion – their once-but-no-longer swan song – has gotten over the past quarter-century is pretty remarkable.

On its initial release in February of 1995, it seemed to be cursed. Drummer Simon Scott left the band before recording and Neil Halstead used the sessions to indulge his growing interest in electronic and ambient music, leaving the rest of the band confused and disconnected. Released at the height of Britpop-mania, critics had little patience for it and Creation dropped the band a week after the album was released. They split shortly afterwards, with Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and new drummer Ian McCutcheon opting to go country with Mojave 3 – not necessarily a disavowal of the direction they took previously, but hardly doubling down.

Last year, The Quietus looked at how the record was received with the benefit of a quarter-century of hindsight:

A Retreat Into Silence: Slowdive’s Pygmalion At 25 @ The Quietus

But as is often the case, even panned, ignored, and deleted, the record still found its audience. Over the next 20 years, it proved to be a blueprint for artists exploring post-rock, ambient, electronica, and all manner of other genres that value space and time in their compositions.

In 2018, Pitchfork talked to a generation of indie-rock acts including Low, The Twilight Sad, Mogwai, and Japanese Breakfast, about the importance of Pygmalion as a musical touchstone:

Why Slowdive’s Post-Rock Masterpiece Pygmalion Still Matters @ Pitchfork

It also served as an effective occasional side-hustle for myself – after paying the princely sum of $30 for the import compact disc at the start of the century, I found used copies of the CD and sold them on eBay for a tidy profit at least three times. The bottom fell out of that market in 2005 when the album was finally put back into print via Castle Music, and was then remastered again for a deluxe edition on Cherry Red in 2010 along with rest of the band’s catalog, helping pave the way for the band’s reunion in 2014.

Last year, Sonic Cathedral compiled what amounts to an oral history of the record from the band, including drummer McCutcheon:

Still crazy for you: the inside story of Slowdive’s Pygmalion @ Sonic Cathedral

For the audio/video portion of the post, here’s the evolution of a song, starring “Crazy For You”. We’ll start with the alternate/demo version that appears as a bonus track on the 2010 deluxe edition of the album, followed by the original album version from 1995, and finally the glorious live arrangement for the song that finally brought Pygmalion to the stage with the band’s reunion in 2014, courtesy of a 2017 session with Seattle’s KEXP.

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