In my last post about the wonderful works of album-era Jim Guthrie, I made a glaring omission in describing the sound of that period: Guthrie likes his songs to be lyrically dense. I briefly touched on that, but not to the point where I could extrapolate on it. Case in point, the song that got me into Guthrie’s body of work was Trust, and I still struggle to comprehend sections of it nearly a decade later. A lot of Guthrie’s early work is like that. Sometimes, you’ll have a song like Sexy Drummer, where the prose is easy to read into and understand. But occasionally, you’ll run into something like Virtue which is about… the concept of virtue, I guess? But you may have noticed that, in all of my articulation about the style of Guthrie’s lyricism, I have yet to bring up a single track from his 2003 album “Now, More Than Ever.” Had I not come to a startling realization today, I would have. I have been listening to “Now, More Than Ever” as a series of disconnected vignettes ever since I heard it for the first time. But if you concentrate on the lyrics enough and try to piece the puzzle together, a much clearer picture forms. “Now, More Than Ever” is a concept album. Maybe not by intention, but everything fits together so that it just makes sense. That’s my reading of it, at least.
If I had to summarize what the album’s about, it goes like this: “Now, More Than Ever” follows a man who settles for a relationship that he has been chasing after, only to realize that they aren’t compatible. The relationship has a long and messy ending, resulting in a string of nameless one-night stands that only progressively get more tiring as the singer feels his time on Earth shortening at an increasingly high rate. He attempts to adopt a more positive outlook on life, which brings him closer to another person. Knowing how his last relationship turned out, his inner-voice wonders if there’s anybody out there who is genuinely compatible with him or if that’s a pipe dream whose chance of being a reality is null.
If you want the full version, here it is. The album opens with Problem With Solutions. The singer finds himself in a bar, drinking his time away. His outlook follows this rough pattern: “if hay can be used to make alcohol and is healthy for a horse, why can’t I have the best of both worlds and just eat the horse instead?” His reliance on getting drunk causes him to spin out of control and be distant from those around him, including those he feels deeply connected to. He recognizes that his current outlook is problematic and can alienate others from him but continues on this path to deal with his own feelings of alienation. All Gone finds the singer sober as he lies down at home, thinking of someone he cherishes. Thoughts of marriage cross his mind as he begins to long for their presence. He wonders to himself internally if he could “make something out of nothing,” perhaps implying that there’s not much of a connection to be had. The next day, this longing turns more severe when he sits alone on his porch in Montreal, feeling small and distant from the world around him. The world around him freezes as his mind begins to slip. Finally, in Save It, the sourness catches up to him. The world around him melts as he sees his future as a bleak and empty place where nothing is thought through, resulting in a series of meaningless conversations that ultimately lead to even more meaningless conflicts. He seeks out help to calm him of his increasingly hostile view of the world but finds no solace in any of the assistance he’s been given. In his second attempt to alleviate himself, he tries to find sexual satisfaction in the world but quickly shoots the idea down as it makes him uncomfortable at the time. He finds a new lease on life through the messy self-destruction of himself or someone close to him. In Broken Chair, this new perspective gives him the confidence to finally seek after the person he cherishes. However, his attempts are met with skepticism and ambivalence. The reality of that is portrayed in Lover’s Do, where the relationship starts out strong but becomes one-sided as it painfully deteriorates in silence. Time is a Force jumps in time to a point where the singer’s idea to find peace in sexuality has gotten to his head. One-night stands are almost daily, and, despite fulfilling his need to be seen in the world, he feels even more empty and alone. He feels his time on Earth slipping as the tedium gets to him. But just as soon as he feels himself falling into the same pit he struggled to get out of in Save It, he finds the energy to pull himself up in fear of ever falling down that hole again. Now, More Than Ever is the only song on the album with no lyrics, but it doesn’t need any. The way Time is a Force leads into it, and the positive energy it radiates from the rest of the album says all that’s needed to be said. The singer finally confronts everything that he finds to be woeful about his life and tries to put his best foot forward in addressing all of it. This positivity leads to him finding someone he shares a deeper connection with in The Evangelist. The title of the track is the second reference to religion found within the album. It hints at two possible scenarios: the person he seeks intimacy from is religious, or the connection he feels with them is so deep that it mirrors that of a husband and wife during their honeymoon period. Given that the first reference was about marriage, the latter is more likely. The last track on the album, You Are Far (Do You Exist?), is perhaps the most introspective—and short—of the bunch. Instead of giving his listeners a happy ending, Guthrie gives them a more realistic one. Right now, the singer and his partner are comfortable in each other’s presence, but what if that doesn’t last? Finding someone who makes you happy and never puts you down seems ideal but is rarely an occurrence in a world filled to the brim with billions of people. And yet we are told to seek after these partners and that they lie in wait for us. The singer is happy where he is but worried that things might happen in the same order as he repeats his series of mistakes, and perhaps this fear is something that he finds to be too debilitating to be open about. The success of this relationship demands that he can successfully open himself up to that conversation, but that may never happen. Until it does, he’s left to wonder: where is the perfect person for me, and do they exist?
“Now, More Than Ever” has been on my computers and phones ever since I first heard it. At one point, Guthrie’s music calmed me to a point where listening to it helped me get a good night’s sleep. While that anecdote might make his body of work seem uninteresting, it is quite the contrary. Through engaging with his music past the surface level, I have a newfound appreciation for what he, and the musicians he’s worked with, have been able to accomplish. After reading “Now, More Than Ever” in the way that I’ve outlined in this article, I can only say that my love of it has gotten stronger. Although I do not keep definitive lists of what my favorites are of anything, if you were to ask me what my favorite album of all time was right now, I’d say “Now, More Than Ever” by Jim Guthrie.
This article is based purely on personal interpretation. If you have an interpretation of your own or feel that mine doesn’t work, feel free to share it!