Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It was raining, and I’d just been dumped – good time to get into the Palace Brothers, I reckoned. “Come In”, An Arrow’s lead track, did the business: a minor miracle of economy and despair. A mess of low graveyard strings, lachrymose and ghostly steel guitar, regretful brushed drumming and Will Oldham’s measured, mannered voice, somehow pulling itself together into a song. Oldham takes it mostly numb and blackhearted, faltering only sometimes and breaking never: it’s one of his best and gloomiest vocals, the relatively structured music stopping him just wandering off down some archaic verbal cul-de-sac.

Oldham breaks through the authenticity barrier which prevents full-on enjoyment of most by playing the deliberate weirdo: an over-educated innovator with a hillbilly voice and a penchant for language so fastidious and elemental it’s almost Biblical. Even when his records are just irritating workings-out of this schtick, his intelligence demands respect. “Come In” was the start of a winning streak for him, some increasingly excellent records culminating in his scarifying backwoods drum-machine masterpiece Arise, Therefore. It’s maybe my favourite Oldham song, in fact, and mostly for the music and the memories. The way its deep swell of gloom finally breaks into a brief piano melody, dignified but hopeless; the way it gave me a workable map of heartbreak at a time when direction was a scarce commodity. You needn’t agree, but then again, you might.