Friday, October 17, 2008

The Optimist

That's what Percy Sledge is. An optimist. And I think that's why he kind of topped off and faded away: You can't stay satisfied for long and still be a "soul" man. He was courting over-happiness from the start: You'll remember that his biggest hit was basically a peon to just plain old loving a woman. I'll Be Your Everything is from 1974 and it really seems Percy Sledge's soul-man narrative arc has reached a crossroads, where he can continue the manic depressive life of the traditional soul belter -- suffering lost love in the depths of misery and then soaring high again on new love -- or he can embrace emotional health. In the traditional style, it's Jesus who is about to kill his career. He's got religion and royalties and he needs to sing it in that direction now, celebrate that. And since he's got to be true to himself, to his soul, there's something slow and attentive here, a savoring of every little guitar filigree and rim shot, like he knows this is the last declaration, some parting advice to the listener. Though it's the fourth cut on the first side, it sounds like his last song. And as it builds, the tall glassy symphonic orchestra rising, choral angels with matching golden vocal pipes like a single miraculous golden church organ, Percy Sledge is right where he's always wanted to be, right at home, the gates of heaven wide open. And where can he really go from there? The message is basically the denial of suffering through higher power. This is my theory on why you never really hear from Percy Sledge again. Sure, he could have pretended and powered through on fumes as a "suffering" soul man, become a collection of well-practiced feints and mimes that telegraph "soul." But the last message of love on the last good album by Percy Sledge may be the deepest and closest to home because he doesn't.

The Good Love - Percy Sledge

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