“Yesterday is gone forever”, sings Adam Franklin on the opening track of I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years. Gone, maybe, but not forgotten.
I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years consolidates sounds from not only Franklin’s two previous solo efforts, but also his previous bands, Swervedriver and Toshack Highway, as well as his concurrent Magnetic Morning project with members of Interpol and the Album Leaf. Nothing here is brand new, but that’s not really a problem. After 20 years making music, Franklin’s sound is well-developed and unmistakable. I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years presents that sound more effectively and in service of more consistently good songs than at most points since the Swervedriver days. It’s very much the third in a series that began with Bolts of Melody (2007) and Spent Bullets (2009). Call it a culmination.
Does this mean I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years is that “new Swervedriver album” you’ve been hoping for all these years? No. Franklin doesn’t rage that hard any more, hasn’t in a long time, and probably never will again. The tempos have been slowed down and the metallic noise dialed back. However, the album is louder and more direct than its immediate predecessors. Franklin’s first two albums each opened with a pinned-back, top-down thriller, “Sieze the Day” and “Surge”, respectively, and then proceeded to mellow out. I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years starts off with not one but two. “Yesterday Has Gone Forever” is awash in the surge of guitar effects, explosive chords, and ride cymbals that will certainly inspire grins of familiarity from long-time fans. That’s followed with “I’ll Be YR Mechanic”, which, with its sonic rush and lyrics about a burning gas station, is as close to vintage Swervedriver as Franklin has yet come as a solo artist. All that’s missing is the outstanding playing of his old bandmates. I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years is the first album co-credited to Franlin’s touring band, the three-piece Bolts of Melody. Their playing is fine, but does little more than complement Franklin’s distinctive guitar and vocals.
“She’s Closer Than I’ve Ever Been” completes the opening trifecta. It’s a more ponderous number, but effortlessly pretty, with rolling waves of guitar and drums, and some good Franklin guitar freakouts in there, too. However Franklin creates that signature sliding, divebombing effect of his, it’s here in spades. Later on, “Sinking Ships” brings back the energy and the bliss. No one does this better than Franklin at his best.
Putting Franklin’s solo work in light of Swervedriver is to be expected, even if it’s a little unfair. There’s no pandering to Sweverdriver’s past, or its fans. This is just what Franklin does naturally, and best. Also, I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years is actually quite varied. “I Want You Right Now” and “The Road Is Long” give off a bright, clean indie-pop vibe, one that resembles what used to be called “post-rock”. “Mary Gunn” is a charming bit of whimsy in which the narrator presumably pines for his own female version of the famous private eye Peter: “Don’t say that you won’t be my runner / Don’t tell me you can’t be my gunner”. The woozy, harmony-rich “Lord Help Me Jesus I’ve Wasted A Soul” is a good as its title, while the rambling “Take Me To My Leader” isn’t.
The centerpiece of I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years, however, is “Carousel Town”. A downbeat, slow-moving lament for a dilapidated town, it’s easily one of Franklin’s most personal, intimate songs, and likewise features one of his most impassioned vocals ever. “Everybody’s dancing on the bones of my town”, he sings, his voice nearly breaking. While the song contains British references to playground equipment like helter skelters, the sentiment is all too pertinent to hometowns most everywhere in the current economy. Anyway, the song is timeless, with that dreamy, whisked-away quality that makes it a sort of counterpart to Swervedriver’s classic “Bubbling Up”.
Not all the downbeat material here works as well, though. A couple of the glacial numbers feel like a mere sheen. Also, Franklin’s penchant for waltzes remains an acquired taste. Really, though, if there’s any issue with I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years, it’s with Franklin’s voice. His beguiling tenor is stuck in sighing/mumbling mode for most of the album, giving some songs an unnecessarily similar feel. Though he’ll never be known for vocal melodies, Franlin’s proved himself to be a more dynamic singer, and at times the album could use more swagger.
But none of this stops I Could Sleep for a Thousand Years being Franklin’s most fully realized solo effort to date. Seductively cool, loud and pretty, soft and spaced-out, yet very approachable, it’s everything that’s to be expected of this uniquely gifted songwriter and musician.