The 3rd album from the late Mark Linkous' Sparklehorse, It's A Wonderful Life, was the first to be recorded in a commercial studio with a full band. Recorded and released in 2001, after Linkous' near-fatal overdose in a London hotel room, the album is a beautiful and fragile exploration of somber themes. Featuring guest appearances from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Vic Chesnutt, It's A Wonderful Life is a singer-songwriter classic.
Like Neil Young on the finer moments of Tonight's the Night
, Sparklehorse leader Mark Linkous nails the lonesome-man dirge to the wall on this third long-player. Along with his kindred contemporaries (and guest musicians) Mercury Rev
, Linkous makes little secret of his worship for the Neil Young vibe, and he takes it in a direction that Young has never fully realized. It's a Wonderful Life
's sweet melodies sound as if they were recorded on corroded tape, with fragility inherent both lyrically and musically; yet this is the least psychotic, and most cohesive Sparklehorse album to date. Linkous and his mates also benefit from appearances by Tom Waits
crooner Nina Persson, and the most effectively used guest of all, PJ Harvey
, who bites hard on one of the CD's few static rockers, "Piano Fire." Other highlights include the almost-fit-for-radio "King of Nails," the piano ballad "Sea of Teeth," and the hidden bonus track (eight minutes into track 13), "Morning Hollow." Linkous moans on the title track, "I'm a bog of poison frogs / It's a wonderful life / It's a wonderful life." Get the feeling that this might not be for everybody? Thank God for that. --Chris Paul Carter