Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy by The Black Watch takes me back to a moment in high school that I will never forget. I read a poem in creative writing class, and afterwards a girl who I never thought I had a chance with asked me out. From that point on, being called a "sensitive young man" would never bother me again. I believe that The Black Watch's John Andrew Fredrick once made a similar discovery. There is a great deal of poetry in his lyrics, and his music strikes an artful balance between acoustic and electric. There is a sense of cohesion in the 11 songs on this album which makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
"Sugarplum Fairy" is the brief opening track, and it is an acoustic piece with a dreamy lyric. As I discovered with the first TBW album I heard, Led Zeppelin Five (2011), they like to mix things up by throwing in the occasional dose of feedback. "There You Were" is the second track, and it opens with two minutes of feedback. Somehow he is able to control the sound to make it very melodic though, and it provides a unique prelude to the song.
The Black Watch's music has been described as power-pop, college rock, even shoe-gazer. I am not sure about those depictions, and I do not know of a single artist who has ever agreed with the tags that critics label them with anyway. Still, we need some sort of shorthand to give a sense of what the music sounds like. In my review of Led Zeppelin Five, I mentioned the mid-'80s sound of The Church as a point of reference, and this could be applied to Sugarplum's "Dear Dead Love" as well. The sparkling hooks and unforgettable lyrics make this my favorite track, with "Darling I've Been Meaning To" a close second.
From this point on, the arrangements become much sparser. The song titles speak to the tone, "Good Night, Good Night, Good Night," "Nothing," and "A Major Favor" are very appealing acoustic tunes. The album closes with the brief and tender "Dear Anne."
John Andrew Fredrick formed The Black Watch in 1987, and there have been many personnel changes since. Outside of the drums, he played every instrument, and wrote all of the songs. The brief opening and closing tracks suggest a preface and an epilogue to a story, although that is pure speculation on my part. The fact that he has a PhD in English literature and is set to publish his third novel this year is another reason I think there may be more to Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy than "just" a collection of eleven songs.
The biggest test of an album for me is how often I play it. This one has been rotating in my CD player for weeks now, and I seem to find new things in it each time it comes around. Although I am no longer the sensitive young man I once was, the music of The Black Watch somehow takes me back. And that is a very rare thing indeed.