Animals That Swim – I Was the King, I Really Was the King

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

This was the first Animals That Swim album I bought, and again, my favored of the two I own but only by a slim margin. The third album was very disappointing – shockingly conventional and dull. I probably bought this in NYC, and just as a matter of probability, likely at the HMV on 86th Street, but I have no exact recollection. This is one of those discoveries I hold dear to my heart – no one I’ve ever met has heard of this band and the fact that I am one of the relative few to have been graced with this music is rewarding.

What I Think of This Album

This album has an air of gloom, or to quote the lead track, faded glamour. It is an album of broken spirits, wasted lives, neglected storefronts in dying villages, abandoned efforts at self-improvement, and petty crimes committed by the grubby fingered and crusty eyed.

The unusual, captivating stories are still there: the ghost who visits the home of the guy who collected all the flowers from his streetside shrine; the guy busted for pot who leaves town to spare his mother shame and goes to pick olives in Sicily and drinks his pay; the alcoholic who craves cooking sherry and vinegar; the shop that sells unlabeled tin cans (“you just guess what you’re going to get”).

The curiosity and sardonic humor of the debut has been replaced with a quiet, tired resignation – it seems like the band has aged decades. Nonetheless, they have retained some measure of pride and a glimmer of defiance, or at least, perseverance; this comes through less in the vocals than in the assured, layered, thoughtful musicianship, with that trumpet always pointing the way to either the future or the past, whichever is the less painful destination. This music is the glitter in the gutter.

The track listing on the back is wrong, by the way, with tracks 4 and 5 inverted. Rachel Davies (Cinerama) added violin to some tracks, and Dare Mason (also, Cinerama) worked the boards again.

Release Date

June, 1996

The Best Thing About This Album

Although “Faded Glamour” is the track I listen to the most, the best song must be “Near the Moon,” which slips between gritty realism and celestial surreality; it’s quite stunning.

The Cover Art

On the one hand, this is not an appealing cover in any way, but on the other, it makes perfect sense with the music. Still, the Courier font is terrible, the capitalization of the band’s name is confusing, and the colors are ugly. It is also reminiscent of the cover art on the first Beautiful South album – so much that I have a hard time believing it wasn’t intentional, though I can’t think of why.

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