Certain Songs #1171: The Miss Alans – “Big Parade”

Album: Blusher
Year: 1994

Blusher is my favorite Miss Alans album.

Their first and only major label release — on Zoo Entertainment, a subsidiary of BMG — it was their shot at having the same kind of success as comparable artists such as Belly or Teenage Fanclub, and if they ran the table, Matthew Sweet or The Smashing Pumpkins.

While Blusher didn’t come out until May, 1994, I remember having been given a tape of many of the songs from it almost a year prior — the major-label gears grinding even more slowly than the indies — and being struck by how big and calm it sounded, full of songs that knew where they were going, and didn’t mind how long it might take to get there.

Blusher was also full of loads of sonic experimentation, the lessons learned during Smack The Horse becoming semesters full of weird guitar tones, offbeat rhythms, and in the case of “Patti Smith Fan Club” the entire fucking song run through a Leslie speaker in order to get it what Scott called in an interview at the time “slithery enough.”

So yeah, their most experimental album was also their major-label debut, which is part of why it’s such a great record, but maybe also part of why it didn’t break them: there wasn’t an obvious single, a “Pagan Home,” a “Crushed Impalas,” or a “The Shiny Unfeeling,” though “Mag Wheel” comes pretty damn close for me. And please don’t @-me with “Victoria,” which is a fucking great song — I’m posting about it tomorrow — but the rave-up makes it more like “Bullet The Blue Sky” than “With Or Without You.”

Part of that, of course, is because the vast majority of Blusher was recorded prior to being signed to Zoo, so there were no specific label expectations to worry about as they were writing and recording the songs. They were just recording their latest batch of songs, and having fun with the studio in the process.

And I think that’s why Blusher hangs together as an album, or even better a mood, even without an obvious single. Kind of like Darkness on The Edge of Town or I Often Dream of Trains.

One of the early highlights of Blusher was the gorgeous “Big Parade,” — an alternate, acoustic version of which had been released as the b-side of “Mata Hari’s Butt” — which alternated slowly building verses full of acoustic guitar with a tumbling chorus full of skittering guitars, always linked together by Jay Fung’s trademark triplets on bass.

Meanwhile Scott Oliver is singing in character about experiencing a rock bottom by a person you care deeply about. The kind of rock bottom after which the only choice seems to be sobriety, because they’ve already skirted death.

So out of the first verse, Scott and Manny’s guitars are soaring to the sky, like nothing in the world can stop them, until they hit the last line of the pre-chorus.

Huge balloons float in Macy’s big parade
Like you were laughing when you threw it all away
Now a machine’s hooked up into your brain

That stops the song dead for a second, lets you think about it for a second, and the the song continues with a simple plea for normalcy over a straightforward beat.

Talk to me
Let me talk
To you

In the middle, the beat breaks down almost entirely, and Manny fires off a low-key guitar solo that skirts around Scott’s echoed plea of “Talk to me / cos I’d really love to talk to you” before the full band picks the beat back up and marches down the rest of the parade route.

“Big Parade” was emblematic of Blusher — pitched somewhere between uplifting and melancholy — while sounding nothing like any of the other songs on it.

“Big Parade”

“Big Parade” live at Club Lingerie, 1994

“Big Parade” live acoustic 1993

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