Sixpence None the Richer (R.E.X. Music)
When Sixpence None the Richer released This Beautiful Mess on April 18, 1995, I was about a month away from graduating high school. I was an introverted, confused, legalistic 18-year-old. I was beginning to come out of my ultra-quiet shell, and was questioning the “rules” of the oppressive culture I grew up in Middle Tennessee. I was rapidly expanding my music collection, and this album hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was the best complete album I had ever heard, and to this day I consider it my favorite album of all time.
Why? Musically, it is stunning, and lyrically, it challenged me to my core. It is bizarre and providential that Matt Slocum, Leigh Bingham Nash, Tess Wiley, Dale Baker, and J.J. Plasencio ever ended up in the same room together, much less the same band. (Tess’s and J.J.’s stints in the band only overlapped by less than a year.)
On the first two songs there are intense guitar licks with feedback, a bass solo like none I had ever heard before, elaborate, complex drumming, and harmonies from two distinct female voices. And the words those voices were singing were exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
In my favorite song on the album, “Love, Salvation, Fear of Death,” Slocum wrote, “Falling off my pedestal of plentiful deeds/ as it crumbles down on top of me/ I contemplate my lack of love. Come and save my soul/ before it’s not too late/ I’m not afraid to admit/ how much I hate myself.”
Damn. I had never heard anyone say or write anything like that in the first 18 years of my life. Wiley continued the theme on “Disconnect”: “Just tell me when these hopeless days are over/ I’ll open my eyes and see my new day rise/ I don’t deserve this.”
It was refreshing and important for me at that time to hear artists share that life is hard and painful. At times in my world everyone acted and lived as if everything was perfect. Internally I knew I wasn’t perfect and it was encouraging to learn through this album that I didn’t have to be, and that there was hope. Slocum continued, “Messiah, I know you are there/ catching, carrying this beautiful mess,” in the chorus of “Within a Room Somewhere.” I felt as if I was a “beautiful mess,” but that was OK.
The internal emotions and thoughts this album spurred in me gave me a confidence and self-worth I had never before experienced. In the six weeks that followed the release of this album, I went on my first date, went to my only prom (with a drop-dead gorgeous girl), drove a few hours sans parents to a punk show, shaved my head, and stopped shaving my face. And most importantly, this album showed me freedom and allowed me to experience grace in new and amazing ways.