The Sundays – A Tantalizing Retrospect

The Sundays Stonefaced by nolody

Was there ever a more tantalizing band than The Sundays? Usually a band has at least one good song in them, and ultimately what separates the good bands from the great ones – and indeed the crap ones that make up 99% of the entire music population – comes down to the number of good songs they write (and the frequency with which they can release them). The Sundays have written three terrific songs: ‘Here’s Where the Story Ends‘, ‘Goodbye‘ and ‘Summertime‘. These are among the loveliest, most lilting songs English music has produced in the last twenty years. Harriet Wheeler’s voice is immediately iconic, the hooks infectious, the swooning guitar transporting you to some imaginary countryside from your childhood. What’s more, these are the types of songs that you just know there are more of: they’re just so *loveable* that you can’t help but think – know – the band who wrote them must surely have the magic to crank out more. The clincher is the fact that the above three songs are all each on different albums. Yes! This isn’t just the debut album the members had been writing and dreaming about since they were fourteen year-old acne victims that has all the good songs. The output must be consistent, it’s not a one-off!

The illusion shatters once you listen to the three albums in their entirety. What’s really striking is not that the other songs are particularly terrible, but that they’re incredibly nondescript. Some of the good elements are there, but nothing ever comes together to make any of the other songs memorable in the least. They are like husks, the very definition of filler, but because they contain the slightest traces of The Good Songs, they keep you in hope. You listen patiently, hoping and hoping that the next track is the one that will meet your expectations. A riff here, a Wheeler wail there, and you are reminded of what’s possible. So you keep listening.

But the payoff never comes. The Three Good Songs are all there is. The headrush of ‘Goodbye’, the nostalgic longing in ‘Summertime’, the assured self-reflection of ‘Here’s Where…’ are not replicated in the rest of The Sundays’ oeuvre. If they had put these songs on one album it might have been a classic. Instead, they personify why the age of MP3s is a good thing: just buy the tracks you want, not the whole albums.


2 thoughts on “The Sundays – A Tantalizing Retrospect

  1. Wow, could not agree less – though in my experience The Sundays tend to inspire ‘I LOVE THEM’ or ‘meh’ from new listeners. I’ve been listening to the Sundays since I first heard ‘Here’s Where The Story Ends’ in….88?89? One of the few bands/artists of whose (limited) work I never tire, and also – specifically in response to your mild damning of all but three of their tracks – perhaps the only three albums which I will happily sit down and listen to from beginning to end.

    Are the tracks you mentioned standouts? Well, ‘Story’ is cracking but I prefer ‘Not The Only One’ and ‘Joy’ from the first album. ‘Goodbye’….one of their best in my opinion, but I also love ‘God Made Me’, ‘Love’, ‘Medicine’. ‘Summertime’? Not my favourite, a jolly jangly radio friendly crowd pleaser (and to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that) but I prefer ‘Cry’, ‘She’, ‘Folk Song’ and ‘Thinking Of You’

    But I am picking out top favourites from three albums that I really just adore (with Summertime being a little lower on my wow-o-meter)

    We are all entitled to our opinions, which is what you have written here (though your phrasing makes it sound a little…empirical). To counter yours, I would say that the first album has no weak spots, for me – the whole thing is entrancing. ‘Blind’ is much the same, though reaching some greater heights in the areas where it really shines. And Static And Silence, though very much generating less emotive responses from me, is still a wonderful example of their individual sound which by this point has matured and become quite different from the adolescent arrangements I fell in love with.

    And, though you may hurl all manner of insults at me, how you can talk about a catalogue of their work and not mention Wild Horses……cover or not, they made it their own.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I have a real soft spot for The Sundays, because of the three songs mentioned. Their loveliness and warmth were rare back then, and even harder to come by now. In a way, my expectations are continuously raised by their excellence, so that every now and then I would think to myself, ‘I should really go back and listen to the albums more carefully – I might have missed on some other great songs’. But every time I do that, I’m always left slightly disappointed. I just can’t help but feel that the rest of the albums don’t really match up to the three classics. The songs you’ve mentioned are all in my opinion (and opinion being the operative word) nice enough, but they don’t leave me wanting to listen to them time and again, like I do with ‘Goodbye’, for example. Maybe I’m looking for the wrong things, maybe I should appreciate the albums in their whole, but when I look at the individual tracks few stand out for me. My favourite album is ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’, and the songs you mentioned as well as ‘I Won’ and ‘I Kicked a Boy’ are the ones I do find myself returning to. The other albums, however, just seem to pass me by. It doesn’t stop me holding The Sundays in high regard, though. Their best songs are some of the best of the nineties, and even if the rest of their output didn’t reach the heights, they are still a special band that makes me nostalgic for the days gone by.

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