Plush's Fed is going to go down in rock history as indie-rock's "great lost album." See, rumor has it that the recording budget for Fed was so high (upper five figures is what I've heard) that their label, Drag City, refused to release it--and nobody else would touch it, either, because they couldn't compensate Liam Hayes for his effort. Only the Japanese label After Hours was willing to put it out, insuring that those who would appreciate it would either not be able to find it, or would be stuck with paying at least about 10 dollars more than what they would normally for a record.
Personally, I'm glad that After Hours took the time to relase Fed, and I'll be totally honest in saying that I had no problem whatsoever paying a pretty penny for it on import. How could I possibly complain? This is one of the best albums of orchestrated pop-rock that I've heard in ages, especially when you consider that orchestra pop is in short, short supply in 2003. About the only other place you're going to hear this kind of pop music is if you buy the reissued/remastered Harry Nilsson or Scott Walker collections (which I also highly recommend).
Really, though, I have yet to hear a record this year--or even since I started Mundane Sounds nearly two years ago--that sounds like it should have an orange RCA record label on it. In my mind, I'm still not totally convinced that Fed isn't an artifact from 1974 and that Hayes has been fudging about his age. Lush, thick and warm, Plush certainly lives up to its name--and then some. Hayes has certainly made the record of his career, and has put the also wonderful More You Becomes You to shame. And while I would never justify an artist going bankrupt making a record that will almost certainly wither away in obscurity, I also must add that I wish more artists would take take the time and INVEST in their music and their art.
Starting the album with "Whose Blues" was an odd decision. It's easily the weakest track, the only time that Fed falters--it's a five minute blues-rocker that just doesn't really fit in with the flow of the album. It's not bad, mind you; it just seems to be quite out of place at the beginning of the record. I bet if it was programmed later into the record, it wouldn't be as "bad," either. Wonder why Fedsounds so good (and cost so much to make)? Take a look at the list of performers on Fed, and you'll understand where the money went. He hired the best of the best when it came time to record, and it certainly shows. From Steve Albini to John McEntire and Rian Murphy to a huge orchestra accompaniment--when you put that much work into your record, it's gonna sound good. And Fed sounds damn good.
Fed is an utterly magical record, with every song being a winner. Sure, that's sloppy and vague journalistic writing on my part, but I really cannot think of any other words to say. From the mellowed vibe of "No Education," "What'll We Do" and "Have it All" to the orchestra-rocked out "I've Changed My Number" and "Greyhound Bus Station," Fed explores the possibility of rock music and orchestrated pop backing, and it sounds wonderful. Never kitschy or bombastic, it's tasteful in a way that's not been seen since Scott 4 or Nilsson Schmilsson.
I just hope that Hayes' experience with Fed doesn't embitter him, or makes him want to give up music entirely. I wouldn't blame him for doing so, but do we really need a highly talented pop musician turning his back on the industry, denying his talent to the world, and leaving folks like me wondering why? One Scott Walker is enough. Fed is evidence that Hayes should keep on going, problems be damned. Maybe it will be released soon here, maybe not; either way, it's still one of the best records you'll (n)ever hear.
(PS. I never do this, but Parasol is currently having a major sale. Though I know he needs the money, I also want you to hear this record. You need it. You need to hear what a great record sounds like.)