The first thing you need to know about this album is that you probably will not be able to move past the first song.
Hell, assuming that the shoegaze and dream pop genres have no overlap between them, and had it not been for Cocteau Twins re-establishing brilliance within 1990’s Heaven or Las Vegas, I’d call “Fade Into You” the best dream pop song of the decade. It understands – better than the suits over at 4AD that immediately sign every band that has even a passing resemblance to Cocteau Twins (speaking of which, it’s a wonder why they didn’t steal these guys too) – that dream pop requires a lot more than just the ‘dream’ part. It understands the ‘pop’ requirement too, and it’s easily the best melody (either in the vocals or the piano riff) this band has ever thought of; listen especially to the way Hope Sandoval enunciates the first word of the title. And unlike most dream poppers who appreciate laziness, they add a tambourine to the song’s second half so there’s at least a reason to continue listening to it!
Now, my chief problem with So Tonight That I Might See – and Mazzy Star in general – is their fucking lyrics. Robert Christgau’s one-sentence review ends with calling them “sad division,” but that’s wrong. They’re not sad, they’re just slow. Hope Sandoval’s poetry is far, far worse than Radiohead’s Yorkeisms, because they’re not clever enough to be abstract despite desperately trying hard to be, and when she abandons that pretense, they’re never as hard-hitting as say, “If I could be who you wanted” either. Despite my praise for “Fade Into You,” the words in the verses are mostly placeholders. “You put your hands into your head?” What? Not “You put your head into your hands,” but literally, she’s telling you that your hands are literally inside your head? “Close your eyes with what’s not there?” No, just no.
To her credit, and because I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, she does get a couple of good ones; “I look inside you to see nothing / I look inside you to see the truth” might be a little ham-fisted, but at least it says something. “Unreflected” has this bit worth keeping: “In our memories / We don’t have much to say / We don’t have much to say / We don’t have much,” with the last line (and the most powerful one) lingering over a full measure of silence. Finally, closer “So Tonight That I Might See” has the best line of the album, “I hold you tight like a ray of sunshine on a rainy day.” Too cute. But, for the most part, it’s a lot of posing. “I could possibly be fading” means as much power as “I think I might possibly be falling in love with you, maybe, while “Blue Light” – the band’s answer to “Everybody Hurts,” arpeggios and barely existent percussion and all – offers nonsense like “There’s a blue light in my best friend’s room / There’s a blue light in his eyes / There’s a blue light, yeah / I want to see it shine.” Like, did David Roback, who wrote great lyrics for Rain Parade, not want to criticize her because he wanted to get laid? (In his defense, I wouldn’t have either.) Seriously, the fact that that band still gets ignored is one of life’s many crimes.
Musically speaking, Mazzy Star have less ideas than Rain Parade, which at least listened to both hippie music from the 60s and post-punk from the late 70s/early 80s. Other than brief shoegaze colorings (see: “She’s My Baby”), Mazzy Star mostly settle for “hippie imitation” (the first half of Robert Christgau’s review); the worst is the last stretch of tracks. There’s a total disconnect between song and singer on “Wasted;” Sandoval hasn’t a hope (sorry, unintentional pun) in hell of rising above David Roback’s muscular blues that desperately wants someone to fight alongside with it. Barring two brief bridges that total two measures and an outro, “Into Dust” is exactly three chords – and not even remotely interesting chords or an interesting chord progression to boot – repeated in arpeggio form for 6 minutes. The title track would probably be the most interesting song here if not for the fact that it’s a carbon copy of “Venus in Furs” that’s been slowed down and thus longer. But I said added the “taken individually” modifier, because both tracks 8 and 10 at least offer a bit of variety in the grand scheme of things.
Their competent covers of Love’s “Five String Serenade” and Memphis Minnie’s “Bake My Biscuit” (found as a b-side to “Fade Into You”) suggest that the band should’ve just done the This Mortal Coil thing and covered their favorite songs in Mazzy Star aesthetics.