Pleasure E.P., by Semisonic
This EP marks the beginning of Semisonic’s music career, and it is certainly a very interesting document of a band just starting out and exploring a variety of elements within their sound. There are really seven tracks to this as well as a bit of noodling that adds to the personality of the record without adding a lot of content. This particular EP comes from the band’s first recording sessions at Elektra that were aborted and that led to the band being dropped. And before going to MCA, the group released the material that they had recorded so far, and what it turns out to be is an enjoyable look at a band trying to find its place in the music scene of the mid-1990’s. I had listened to this EP before, but listening to it again I see that even the lesser tracks here have considerable value and appeal, even if there are clearly three songs that are better than the rest, and two of them ended up being added to the band’s debut full length LP Great Divide, entirely unsurprisingly so. Yet the tracks that were not quite up to that level still show a band learning its way and beginning in a strong fashion that is certainly worth checking out if you like Semisonic’s more famous material. Here is a track-by-rack review:
The Prize: The first song on the first recording by Semisonic already reveals the band’s fundamental ambivalence about show business and the pop culture that they were in. Despite wanting popular success, the band knew from the start that there was a great deal of phoniness in the whole process, and the band itself, especially lead singer/songwriter Dan Wilson, would find himself considered among those twelve master geniuses a year, it’s all so…ironically humorous.
Brand New Baby: This is the sort of song that most bands would be embarrassed to sing and perform, but not Semisonic, who try their hand with the 90’s tone of irony in singing a song about seeing one’s partner chicken her way out of a relationship and then step out with a brand new baby, all while the singer tries to pass himself off as happy for her and not devastated and in no need of her pity.
In The Veins: This is not as strong as the first two numbers, but as a song it has an ominous feel to it that really has the visceral quality of a harder 90’s alternative sound than the band ultimately delivered on. This is a track that deserves attention, not least because its vocals and processing point the way to how some post-grunge acts would sound, following in Semisonic’s wake.
Wishing Well: One of the more surprising songs on the EP, this song expresses the question of what has someone become, falling down a wishing well. This is yet another song that expresses the fear that seeking fame and one’s dreams of popular success will change someone beyond recognition. I don’t think that happened to Semisonic, but it has certainly happened to other groups.
Star: This song is a lovely song, right along the lines of love and relationship music that one has come to expect from the group. And it should come as little surprise that this song’s reflections on love should find the singer/narrator saying that he would love to be a satellite revolving around the star that is his partner. That is precisely as one would expect it coming from Dan Wilson.
Sculpture Garden: This is the third strongest track on the EP, and it’s a shame this song hasn’t gotten more exposure (check it out on the band’s live album, though). The song expresses the longing of the group to make love with a partner in the midst of the sculpture garden, where aesthetic and romantic pleasure can be combined in a place that doesn’t feel as noisy or crowded as the rest of the city.
The Gift: This is a song that expresses the question of whether the person who gave the narrator a certain gift–presumably of a romantic and intimate nature–would have given it again knowing what was known afterwards. This is a song that expresses both the characteristic concerns of the group with intimacy and also the ambivalence about love and relationships that Semisonic explores.
Overall, this is a strong debut and gives a hint of the promise that would be fulfilled in later Semisonic efforts, while also showing at least some roads (“In The Vein”) that the band would not travel further down later.