What's (Re)New?: Beauty Pill's Blue Period — A Few Words From A Grateful Fan

Beauty Pill
Blue Period
Ernest Jenning Recording Co.

“Fans of Smart Went Crazy who just can't accept the fact that Chad Clark is capable of producing anything short of brilliance should save themselves the trauma and skip right to The Unsustainable Lifestyle’s seventh track, ‘Such Large Portions!’, a serene rocker packed with pitch-bent guitars and acrobatic drumming; or crank up the cacophonous, multitracked percussion of the Breeders-esque ‘The Western Prayer’. Either of these songs could allow a person to maintain, indefinitely, that Clark is among indie music's great talents, so long as they never delved into the rest of this record.”

Above is the first paragraph of a Pitchfork review of The Unsustainable Lifestyle, the first full-length LP released in 2004 by Beauty Pill.

Beauty Pill remains the creative outlet of musician Chad Clark, the band’s sole constant throughout its lifespan and primary focus following the dissolution of Clark’s previous band, Smart Went Crazy. Smart Went Crazy’s final LP, the beautifully crafted late 90s milestone Con Art, garnered high praise and, for better or worse, set a bar.

Beauty Pill’s first offering was the excellent 2001 5-song EP, The Cigarette Girl From The Future.

While struggling to find the necessary and accurate words to properly articulate the experience I had hearing Beauty Pill for the first time, my gut led me to scan the expansive array of music-based review sites that are still active for any critical consensus regarding The Cigarette Girl From The Future, just for the purposes of keeping my thoughts in check since I'm a fan who's normally careful about how I weigh in and consider the work of an artist. I'm not into idol worship or ass kissing, but when a work of exceptional merit has such visceral and personal impact, that fine line between annoying praise vs. genuine admiration blurs a bit. That said I remember being rather bored by a lot of aughts music, the occasional, gratifying gem (TV On The Radio, Menomena, Madvillain) largely buried beneath a high percentage of mostly (almost unanimously) agreed upon performers across the then-significant and persuasive blogosphere that weren't doing much for me (The Arcade Fire, M.I.A., Animal Collective).

Beauty Pill opened my ears to new music like they hadn't been for quite some time, maybe even since during my formative years when major label appropriation of the underground and MTV’s success at over-saturating the airwaves with the sounds of no longer-“Alternative Music” were at their zenith. When I listened to The Unsustainable Lifestyle and 2003's You Are Right To Be Afraid EP, both of which were mined for Beauty Pill’s Blue Period compilation/reissue, my appreciation for music styles and genres was bolstered, the art-pop sensibilities and thoughtful arrangements of both releases noticeably smart but neither alienating nor pretentious. There’s emotional depth as well, songs like “Lifeguard During Wartime”, “Prison Song”, and “Nancy Medley, Girl Genius, Age 15”, whose reluctant acceptance of mediocrity hooked me immediately: “Now I fit in / with all your stupid friends.”


And “The Mule On The Plane”, an almost cliffhanger and spectacle-laced reportage of a drug smuggler’s plane ride that’s detailed along with her internalized anxiety, brought on by the possibility of capture. “So look beyond the things you know,” Clark and band member Rachel Burke sing, the crime itself typically overshadowing the desperation involved with committing to such risky endeavors.

(It hadn’t occurred to me before, but the sequencing of “Prison Song” immediately following “The Mule On The Plane” could make for chaptered storytelling, the outcome of capture and incarceration.)

I'm also thankful for the line “Santa Claus, he died for your sins,” featured in “Quote Devout Unquote”, which I heard first on You Are Right To Be Afraid.

At the time I’d acquired those releases, I was ignorant of any negative press or harsh critique tied to The Unsustainable Lifestyle. Regarding the Blue Period compilation, during a recent interview for Aquarium Drunkard’s Transmissions podcast, Clark admits, “I would NEVER have put this record out had people not pushed me to do it.” It happens that the color blue is prominently featured on the cover art for You Are Right To Be Afraid and The Unsustainable Lifestyle. It also happens that “blue” accurately portrays the mood of this time in Clark’s life, Beauty Pill’s work apparently failing to connect and Clark nearly succumbing to viral cardiomyopathy, which required open heart surgery and years of recovery.

On the surface, Blue Period is a reissue and the first time this music’s been available on vinyl, a few relevant and worthwhile odds and ends filling out side D. But, when you consider this era of Clark’s creative life, his efforts unfairly assessed at the height of Pitchfork’s influence, the fact that Blue Period exists is remarkable. Clark trusted his appreciators enough (a passionate lot for sure), that he pushed himself beyond his own feelings about this work to willingly revisit it for the remastering process and put it back out in the world. Granted there’s comfort in knowing Blue Period would have an audience, but I imagine that there could've been some apprehension when it came to reissuing this music almost two decades later, the possibility of new detractors identifying flaws and submitting self-important word salad to whichever music-centric review sites still attract viewers these days. 

(I acknowledge the irony that I’m essentially doing the same thing, albeit with a positive lean).

Beauty Pill eventually followed up The Unsustainable Lifestyle with 2015’s Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, a career highpoint for the band that garnered high praise and, for better only it seems, raised the bar. As for The Unsustainable Lifestyle, the album is now reframed contextually as a moment before triumph and as confirmation that Beauty Pill’s music was always good. Tested by adversity more formidable than any album review could ever be, Clark’s Blue Period has hopefully taken on a warmer hue. 

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