Grandaddy – Just Like the Fambly Cat

Grandaddy
Just Like the Fambly Cat

With hindsight, it was perhaps inevitable that Grandaddy’s existence would be extinguished by a spell of short-term success. Plucked from semi-obscurity by V2 (giving Jason Lytle and co. the ignominious ‘privilege’ of being labelmates with The Stereophonics, no less) to deliver their touchstone commercial, as well as critical, crossover set, The Sophtware Slump, in 2000, the band was destined for a gradual dilapidation. Overworked and underpaid in a tiresome touring treadmill, provoking physical and financial burnout, the brothers Grandaddy fell into 2003’s substandard sheen-coated Sumday like boxers beaten on to the ropes. Following in that album’s wake, Grandaddy drifted into dissolution, resurfacing with last year’s sloppy Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla EP with the news that this year’s full-length follow-up would be the band’s last. However, fears that Just Like the Fambly Cat would be Grandaddy’s bitter break-up record are, happily and surprisingly, misplaced. Faced with making a farewell to a decade’s worth of creativity, chief Grandaddy Lytle has revelled in the opportunity a lot of bands never have; writing a self-prescribed ending.

Unshackled by commercial or future live presentation pressures, Just Like the Fambly Cat is arguably Grandaddy’s most ‘liberated’ long-player. In fact, it would be fair to say that it resembles less of an album and more a potpourri of what Grandaddy largely does/did well off the beaten track, through B-sides, non-album singles, and compilation contributions. This is not a slur on the album’s overall quality control, though; anyone who’s heard Grandaddy’s remarkable covers of M Ward and Kris Kristofferson, the sublime “Nature Anthem,” and live favourite “First Movement/Message Send: ID#5646766” will most probably concur that a posthumous Grandaddy rarities compilation would serve as a more satisfying retrospective tribute than a predictably routine singles and key album tracks ‘best of’ collection.

Thus, Lytle leads us through a mélange of styles, shades, and moods. Giving us a slew of ragged gold nuggety pop songs in the vein of “The Crystal Lake” and “Now it’s On” (“Jeez Louise,” “Elevate Myself,” and “Rear View Mirror”), wistful dreamy ballads (“Summer… it’s Gone”), strung-out space-rock (“This is How it Always Starts”), and engaging weirdness (the instrumental “Skateboarding Saves Me Twice”) – all drenched in 70s synths, stomping drums, and layers of acoustic/electric guitars. There are a few (forgivable) bum cuts, however, with the novelty-like “What Happened…” and “50%” providing rather grating counterpoints to the otherwise sturdy material.

Beneath all the sonic coatings, though, the core songwriting that drives the album finds Lytle at his strongest. The dissolving of the band and his relocation from Modesto to Montana has evidently given Lytle fertile lyrical fodder. Less obsessed with his love/hate relationship with modern technology and rural/urban life divisions, Lytle gives the songs his most personal autobiographical touch. The songs are full of warm nostalgia (“A blanket and a summer evening breeze / Secrets shared and our youth released”), rueful reflection (“Summer it’s gone and I don’t know where everyone went or where I’ll go”), mature resignation (“I don’t wanna to be a part of all the quality that falls apart these days”), but ultimately uplifting and optimistic (“You don’t have to be alone anymore / Good company’s a gift”).

What could have been a boring, belligerent, and bellicose introspective slide into the music industry dustbin has in fact turned out to be one of Grandaddy’s most listenable and likeable releases. Sure, Just Like the Fambly Cat isn’t The Sophtware Slump Mark II, but its redemptive swansongs should appeal deeply to long-serving followers and the unconverted alike. So enjoy your ‘retirement’ Messrs Lytle, Burtch, Dryden, Garcia, and Fairchild… you’ve bowed-out with good humour, honour, and honesty.