Published Sep 11, 2015Generally, it's not unusual for a band to release a break-up album coloured by heartbreak and misery at some point in their careers — unless you're a band like Shannon and the Clams. Shortly before the eternally sunny, slightly snotty Californian doo-wop punkers started writing their third full-length record, both the band's frontwoman Shannon Shaw and guitarist Cody Blanchard went through brutal breakups with their long-term partners. The sequence of events has irrevocably coloured Gone By the Dawn; it's a mature, deeply felt and masterful paean to both classic R&B songwriting and loss that doesn't sacrifice the Clams' upbeat charms and skilled musicianship.
The Clams have tiptoed through the sad-but-happy realm of oldies revivalism before, but the poignant tunes on previous records like 2011's Sleep Talk felt more like a pastiche of the doo-wop heartbreak songbook (replete with hiccups, squawks and sighs), rather than excisions of painful memories. By this measure, Gone By The Dawn is a real departure, one that makes great use of Shaw's massive vocal range and Blanchard's eerily gorgeous tenor. On songs like "Corvette," she croons about the flashy car that never comes, and the meaning through the metaphor makes her quivering tones all the more resonant. "Point of Being Right" (with its adorable accompanying video of cross-dressing karaoke singers) is a deceptively bouncy, catchy-as-hell mea culpa to a lover with a wandering eye. "Knew someone new was in your sight / But what's the point of being right," Shaw sighs with bright resignation.
The album's standout is the ballad "How Long," which sees Shaw stretching her range to its most velvety depths, and then crawling up to a shattering howl at the song's climax that would make Roy Orbison furtively wipe tears from behind his dark shades. This is a truly beautiful record for both "weirdo-oldies" obsessives and the broken-hearted. (Hardly Art)