EMI – 2001 – 60 minutes

Sparklehorse – essentially Mark Linkous and friends – have released two superb but little known albums; 1995's oddly named 'Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot' and, four years later, 'Good Morning Spider'. 'It's A Wonderful Life' is Sparklehorse's 'Deserters Songs', the album that will introduce them to the wider audience that deserve to hear Linkous' textured and twisted pop music. Dave Fridmann, producer of that Mercury Rev opus, lends his magic touch to an album that creaks with the warm analogue sounds of wurlitzers, optigans, chamberlins and mellotrons.

It opens with the title song, a half whispered list of ingredients that could have been ripped out of a sinister witch's cookery book; "bees who died at sea", "a rooster's blood", "a bog of poisoned frogs". This rich imagery is present throughout the album from the "rings of Saturn on your finger" ('Sea of Teeth') to the "toothless kiss of skeletons" in odd-rocker 'King of Nails'.

Linkous has added several new collaborators to the mix this time round including the vocal talents of Nina Persson of The Cardigans, PJ Harvey and Linkous' own hero, Tom Waits. Persson and Harvey are contrasting shades of light and dark; one coos, the other caws. A genuinely unsettling moment occurs when Persson chimes in with Linkous on the chorus of 'Apple Bed', a gentle plea but with something far darker and disturbing behind the 'Please, Doctor, please'. Harvey breaks your heart on 'Eyepennies' while Waits' weighty presence turns 'Dog Door' into a growled sinister nursery rhyme. A superb album from a truly fascinating band.

Caroline Hennessy

Tracklisting: It's A Wonderful Life - Gold Day - Piano Fire - Sea Of Teeth - Apple Bed - King Of Nails - Eyepennies - Dog Door - More Yellow Birds - Little Fat Baby - Comfort Me - Babies On The Sun