“The album was written when I had a home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I would sit in the living room, which had a huge bay window, and stare at the ocean for hours. I would have a pen, and a guitar or piano, and pretty soon a thought would come and I’d write it down or put it on tape. In most instances, after a day of meditation looking at a very natural force, I’d come up with something.”
That’s how Gene Clark described the genesis of his 1974 magnum opus No Other, the most lavish album of his career, and one that would never have been possible without the financial help of David Geffen, founder of Asylum Records, who was so impressed with Clark’s contributions to The Byrds one-off reunion in 1973, that he was prepared to offer the singer a short term contract and the unprecedented amount of $100,000 to record his next solo LP. Thomas Jefferson Kaye was brought in to produce, who gave No Other an almost cinematic grandness to the dense and moody mix of keyboards, choral vocals, guitars, strings and Cuban percussion. But despite the more than generous budget, all Geffen got in return for his money was a mere eight complete songs. However what songs they are.
Opener “Life’s Greatest Fool” successfully fulfils Gene’s ambition of blending folk and country-rock into one cosmic whole, before radically shifting gears with the haunting “Silver Raven”, where Clark’s trembling vibrato shimmers like moonlight on a dark and gloomy ocean. The title track “No Other” is pure country-rock with funk/disco undertones, reminiscent of Tim Buckley’s final LP Look at the Fool, except that what we have here is far more interfused with the cosmos than anything one would have heard in Nashville at the time.
“Strength of Strings” is country music for cowboys who love their LSD (and Eastern melodies), on which Clark’s despondent vocals travel upwards toward the heavens, assisted by a phalanx of backing singers. The emotional “From a Silver Phial” brings the listener back down to earth, in a way not unlike something off Exile On Main Street. “Some Misunderstanding”, the longest cut of the album, sees Clark bare his inner consciousness, and is a minor major masterpiece of expressive understatement, and when he sings “We all have souls yet nobody knows/Just how much it takes to fly… But I know if you sell your soul to brighten your role/You might be disappointed in the lights” it’s almost as if he’s singing from the other side. Clark’s vacillating falsetto intertwines with violins and cello to create a heady mix of aural pleasure.
The last two tracks, “The True One” (a darker version of the Eagles) and “Lady of the North”, are equally memorable, namely the latter, which takes the listener into the heavens (interesting coming from a man who was afraid of flying). Piano, violin, wah wah guitar and cello coalesce to form a celestial kaleidoscope of nuance and colour.
The 2003 reissue has the obligatory bonus tracks that provide a glimpse into the initial studio process. Largely stripped of all the trippy sound effects and state of the art studio production, “Silver Raven” is particularly affecting, just bass, guitar, and Clark’s emotive voice. That they match the final product is proof of Gene’s superior talent as a songwriter, the most notable of which is outtake “Train Leaves Here This Morning” (co-written with Doug Dillard), a song Chris Robinson and His Brotherhood might be interested in covering some day.
No Other was the most ambitious and experimental album Gene Clark ever recorded, it ran madly over budget, and was months behind schedule. Upon hearing the result, an extremely disappointed Geffen refused to offer any additional funds for promotion, thus relegating the LP to the commercial scrap heap. Not even the critics thought much of it, a blow which Clark, being a fragile spirit, purportedly never truly recovered from.