HORSE - God's Home Movie (MCA Records MCA 10935, 1993)
Horse was born Sheena McDonald, in Newport On Tay, Fife. Aged two, her family moved to Lanark, where she grew up. On her tenth birthday, she received her first guitar. This turned out to have a huge affect on her. After that, her ambition was to become a musician. Whilst at school, she met Sandy Ash, with whom she would sing cover versions of songs by Steve Harley and Roxy Music. Sandy Ash decided to place an advert in the music weekly NME advertising for other musicians to join their band. One person who replied was Angela McAlinden. This was to proved a hugely important meeting. Angela McAlinden and Horse started to write songs together, and little did they know that this songwriting partnership would last nineteen years. One problem they had was choosing a name for their group. Their first choice was Rhesus Negative. McAlinden and Horse were joined by a bass player and drummer in Rhesus Negative. However, the group didn’t last long. Their next choice of name was Astrakhan. By now, demos were being sent out to various record companies. One of the demos featured a song called You Could Be Forgiven, which attracted Alex Radvyi, then at CBS songs. This lead to a deal being signed in 1986. At the same time, the lineup changed, with a new bass player Graham Brierton joining the band.
1987 proved to be an important year for Horse. The group were invited to appear on The Tube, one of the biggest UK music shows at the time. It was then that Angela McAlinden suggested they rename the group Horse. Later that year, a record deal was signed. After several months of negotiations, with Simon Potts, who was the Managing Director of Capitol UK records, the deal was signed on 23rd December 1987. Once a record contract is signed, the most demanding period is about to begin for a new artist. They have to write new songs for their debut album, decide which one are good enough to make the album, oh and record the album. Horse’s debut album took three years to produce. During the recording Horse encountered various problems. This include Horse having an operation on her throat. She hadto stay totally silent for ten days. Eventually the album was ready to be released. In 1990, "The Same Sky" was released on Capitol. It reached number forty-four in the UK album charts. To promote the album, Horse toured the album, but then went on to support BB King, Aztec Camera and Tina Turner. After the success of "The Same Sky", Horse would encounter a huge problem with their record company. Simon Potts who had signed the band, moved jobs becoming head of A&R worldwide for Capitol, and quickly, it became apparent that their label wasn’t interested in Horse. After some very turbulent times, Horse managed to secure their release from their contract, and eventually signed with Oxygen records, a subsidiary of MCA. This was great news for Horse, and they began writing the material for the next album. Another problem arose when they tried to find a producer for the album. They were unable to get the producer they wanted, so took the brave to decision to produce the album themselves. "God’s Home Movie" the album this article is about, was eventually released in 1993, and reached number forty-two in the UK album charts.
"God’s Home Movie" opens with "Celebrate", a track that begins with a bass playing, then quickly the rest of the band join in. Drums are crisp towards the front of the mix, guitars chime, and then McDonald sings. Her voice is loud and strong sitting right at the front of the mix. When she sings, she articulates the lyrics perfectly. What is immediately noticeable about her voice, is her great range. An operation she had whilst recording her debut album, saw her range increase. On "Celebrate" she demonstrates what a brilliant voice she has. The rest of her band, perform just as well, making "Celebrate" a rousing track to start the album. One of the best songs on "God’s Home Movie" is "Shake This Mountain". As the track starts, the sound is distant, gradually moving nearer. A guitar plays, the sound loud, drums fade in and Horse joins the fray. Straight away, as you hear her sing, you realize that this song is more than a little special. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the lyrics which are among the best on the album, and secondly, the arrangement. It features some wonderful background vocals, that see Lorna Bannon harmonizing with Horse. The sound is dramatic, the song builds and builds, and it’s catchy, with an infectious quality. It may be eighteen years since I first heard this song, but I still enjoy as much today, as I did back then. The title track "God’s Home Movie" starts with strings sweeping, a guitar is plucked gently and McDonald sings gently, her voice soft, much more subtle than on the first two tracks. This demonstrates her versatility as a vocalist. With the strings playing behind her voice, the sound is beautiful, the effect is stunning, it’s heartfelt and moving. Horse’s vocal is one of the best on the album, she sings within herself, never forcing her vocal, and never overpowering the string section. Regardless of how often you hear this track, you’ll never tire of its understated beauty.
After the sublime "God’s Home Movie", Horse have a difficult job following up such a stunning track. However, when you hear the opening bars of "Years From Now", you wonder if somehow they can produce a track that comes even close. The answer to this is yes. "Years From Now", is another great track. When it starts, the tempo is low, the sound quiet and subtle. A guitar is plucked gently, Horse sings quietly, and you think that this is another subdued song. Wrong. After just over a minute, the band cut loose, and play brilliantly. At the forefront of the track is Horse, her voice strong and loud, singing some lovely lyrics about being in love, and growing old together. Overall, the sound is big, bold and utterly glorious. As the track fades gradually out, you smile, having wallowed in four minutes of glorious music. "Natural Law" gradually shows its beauty, the start meanders, then she sings slowly her voice full of character, her delivery moving, as she takes great care singing the lyrics. She treats them with the utmost respect, as if proud of them, which she should be. Behind her, a guitar plays, it’s subtle, drums gently keeping the beat. The arrangement is perfect for the song, there’s nothing present that shouldn’t be there. Everything compliments the vocal, which to say is stunning, is almost an understatement. My favorite song on the album "A Letter To Anne Marie", is next. When I first heard this track I was smitten. Eighteen years later, I’m still smitten. As the song starts, a brass section play, drums accompany them, the sound is loud, the arrangement much fuller. After that, Horse take you on a magnificent musical journey. It’s almost unfair to single out any musician for praise, as this is very much a group effort. However, the brass section play a huge part in the track, their contribution can’t be underestimated. Sometimes, when they play, their contribution is like musical punctuation, the way it brilliantly breaks up the flow of the music, increasing the dramatic impact. Their contribution turns a good song into a great song. However, without Horse, and her fantastic vocal performance, the song wouldn’t be half as good. Here she surpasses herself, producing her best performance on the album. How she hasn’t become a much bigger star is a mystery not just to me, but to many people. With stunning performances like this, she should be a huge star.
The great songs keep on coming on "God’s Home Movie", with next track, "Hold Me Now", being another of the album’s highlights. Like the previous track, this song is all about the some of the parts. Again, it’s almost unfair to single anyone out for praise on this track, as the whole band have played their part in making this such a good track. However, two people deserve credit. From the start of the track, McDonald’s vocal is strong, loud and confident. Later in the track, she varies her vocal, singing quietly, later on, her voice soars, again, demonstrating her amazing vocal range. The other person who deserves huge credit is the guitarist, whose solo is one of the best you’ll hear. Quite simply, it’s amazing. "Hold Me Now" is one of those songs that you never want to end, and when it does, you just press repeat. That’s how good it is. "Imitation" is the third great song in a row. It’s very different from the two previous songs. As it starts, strings play, McDonald sings, her voice soaring, before she settles down to give a great rendition of one of the catchiest songs on the album. It’s laden with hooks, and you’ll find yourself singing it for days. When she sings, her voice has a sweetness, which is added to by the string section. The addition of the string section on this track was a masterstroke, it has the effect of transforming the track. It compliments the vocal, and the band take care never to overpower the string section. What Horse have produced is a track that you can’t fail to enjoy. I’ll warn you though, it has an infectious quality. When "Sorry My Dear" begins, a piano and guitar play, the introduction is long, as if building up the drama. The tempo is slower, the song is very different from the previous tracks. When McDonald sings, the lyrics are darker, she sings about someone with charmed life, who when the night comes can’t sleep and the fears that engulf them at this time. Horse sings the lyrics slowly, ensuring she articulates the lyrics perfectly. Even when the rest of the band join in, the tempo remains slower, the band’s performance slightly understated. This suits the song, it allows the vocal to shine, and the lyrics to take centrestage, as they’re among some of the best on the album. Although very different to other songs on the album, it’s still a good quality track by Horse.
"God’s Home Movie" ends with "Finer", a track which start’s quietly, a piano playing, accompanied by drums which play slowly, leaving plenty space in the music. There is a jazz influence at the start of the track, with the piano playing and McDonald’s vocal. Strings join in, the sound begins to grow, but always remaining a lovely understated quality which suits the song. McDonald has reserved a much more reserved vocal for this song, and takes great care when singing never to overpower the strings or piano. Like all the songs on the album, the lyrics are of the highest quality, and tell of a romance set in a small town, and the tedious life ordinary people have to endure to survive. Although written nearly two decades ago, the lyrics are as pertinent today, as they were when the album was released. "Finer" is a good way to close the album, it’s a much more gentle and thoughtful song, one that demonstrates the talent of the McDonald and McAlinden songwriting partnership. That is the story of Horse’s career so far, and their second album "God’s Home Movie". It’s been a pleasure writing this review, and spending time listening to Horse’s wonderful music. This album, to me, was their best album. It’s an album full of quality songs, songs that feature some great lyrics and are sung by a highly talented vocalist in McDonald, and played by a really tight band. Throughout the album, they produce one great performance after another, and it amazes me that Horse were not a much bigger success than they are. If you’re one of the many people who’ve yet to hear Horse’s music, then this is a good album to start with. It features some of Horse’s best songs, where they sing a variety of styles of music. Another good album for someone who isn’t familiar with Horse’s music is "The Same Sky". These two albums are among the best Horse have ever recorded, and will let you hear some wonderful music, music which I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy.
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