September 15 — “A Short Happy Life” by Medicine


If you only listen to one song today, make it “A Short Happy Life” by Medicine (1992, from the album Shot Forth Self Living).

Medicine was a Los Angeles shoegaze band who released three albums between 1992 and 1995, then another in 2003. For a multitude of reasons, they were frequently hailed as America’s answer to My Bloody Valentine, and the people who were doing that called Shot Forth Self Living their Loveless. It’s not a parallel, because Loveless was MBV’s second and last album while Shot Forth… was Medicine’s first. However, the point was that it was their crowning achievement.

It was 20 years ago today that Shot Forth Self Living was released. I’ve chosen today’s song in honor of that.

It’s easy to forget that the Medicine and My Bloody Valentine were contemporaries. It’s even easier to forget that the two brilliant albums Loveless and Shot Forth… were released within ten months of each other. It’s my opinion that Shot Forth… is almost as good, and almost as exciting as Loveless. At the time, it was almost as appreciated. 20 years have passed, and Loveless remains on people’s “favorite records” lists, while Shot Forth… has unfortunately been forgotten. I still love it, and I’ve been doing my part to bring it back to relevance.

Thankfully, the good folks at Captured Tracks Records have been doing their part, too. On Record Store Day, they re-released Shot Forth… and Medicine’s second album —The Buried Life in “deluxe and redux” 2XCD/2XLP format. Each re-release features the remastered album with extra tracks, plus a bonus disc of rare and unreleased stuff.

The 2012 re-release of Shot Forth… features:

Disc 1: the entire album, plus the 5ive EP and the Aruca EP.
Disc 2: 19 tracks, taken from various demo tapes, early versions, and live recordings.

As I usually do with these things, I’ll offer two versions of today’s song. Both taken from the deluxe package. I’ll suggest that you play these very loud. First, the album version:
“A Short Happy Life” by Medicine

It opens with innocent, chiming guitars, then the first of many hard hits at the 0:15 mark. There’s a big, dark, heavy wave of sound there that’ll crush you if you’re not careful. Beth Thompson’s lighter than air vocals float delicately over the heavy dirge of guitars, feedback, bass and drums. It gets a little drone-y until smack in the middle of the song, it takes a little turn at 3:22. It works its way back to the drone-y bit, but at 4:55, it takes another turn, and that right there is one of my favorite bits of the song. Listen for the drum fill, followed by the whiny guitar and the layers and layers of feedback. You won’t notice the bass there, but it’s actually pretty big in the mix. For the next 90 seconds, the swirling feedback keeps getting bigger and bigger, ever so slightly. By the end, it’s almost entirely feedback and drums.

And of course, there’s the sudden stop. The pulling of the plug. It’s a brilliantly blunt way to stop a crushing wave of sheer noise.

If you get caught in the undertow, you’ll miss some really brilliant stuff in the lyrics. Perhaps brilliantly non-sensical. Perhaps brilliantly oblique. Perhaps, just unqualified brilliance.

The original album was released on Def American Records in North America and on Creation Records in the UK. The thing about that is that My Bloody Valentine had pushed Creation to the brink of bankruptcy with Loveless, and here they were releasing what many considered to be the second coming of Loveless. Anyway, the original release didn’t include a lyric sheet, but the 2012 reissue does.

Honey sliding across the floor
Don’t make me wait
If you smile now, I just might melt
Lick me off the plate

Taste me now, ’cause we’ve not much time
Crush my tiny frame

She’s a shy boy
I don’t know why
Cruel to the core
Kiss me once before I die
Hang me from the door
Is it my turn to make you cry?
I’m not keeping score

There’s some pretty sexually suggestive stuff there. Whether it is or isn’t about sex doesn’t matter. This is steamy. And I’ve always been a big fan of that “Is it my turn to make you cry? I’m not keeping score” line.

Now, try the “alternate” version, which was recorded during the album sessions.

“A Short Happy Life (alternate take)” by Medicine

It’s a little less laden with feedback, a little less undertow-y, and a little less …um… loud.

One specific thing that’s pretty neat about this alternate take is the way it ends. The album version sounds like the plug was pulled while the band was playing. The ending of the alternate version is a little less sudden. It almost sounds like the band stopped playing at the precise and carefully orchestrated moment.

I highly recommend the deluxe and redux Shot Forth Self Living. You can get it from the Captured Tracks web store here.

For extra credit, I’ll invite you to watch the official music video for “Aruca”, which is probably the most Loveless-esque song by Medicine. Hell, the video even looks like Loveless.


About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

3 responses to “September 15 — “A Short Happy Life” by Medicine

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