I first heard Sixpence None the Richer while listening to a cassette demo in the Christian bookstore in 1993. They had me from the opening acoustic guitar riffs on “Field of Flowers,” the opening track from The Fatherless and the Widow. That album was fantastic, but even so, it was only a foretaste of what was to come.
While the band are largely known for their romantic pop radio hit, “Kiss Me,” from their self-titled third album, many fans and critics alike are drawn to their sophomore album, This Beautiful Mess. TBM took the folk-driven alternative pop from Fatherless and added an alternative rock element, aided largely by the addition of two new band members, rounding out a full band sound.
Matt Slocum (ex-Love Coma) had been the brainchild behind Sixpence, enhanced by the other-worldly vocals of Leigh Bingham (later Nash)–only a teen when she began with the band. Drums on the debut were handled by Chris Dodds (also of Love Coma), but Dale Baker replaced him for the sophomore effort and became the most consistent drummer of the group. Rounding out the lineup for This Beautiful Mess were bassist J.J. Plasencio (later of Plumb) and Tess Wiley of the noisier alt rock outfit Phantasmic AKA Splendora, and later known for her solo work. (Funny sidenote: Tess Wiley’s brother is Gabe Wiley of highly revered 2nd wave emo band Mineral. I was first introduced to Mineral as “Tess Wiley’s brother’s band.”)
Sixpence would become much more well-known 2 years later–and don’t get me wrong–their eponymous album is incredible. However, something magical took place on This Beautiful Mess that is hard to deny. The raw, honest lyrics coupled with haunting melodies, beautiful arrangements, and incredible musicianship united for a truly enchanting listening experience.
While the whole album is incredible, the standout track is clearly “Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death.” Just the bass intro (I know there’s an effects pedal creating that echo, but still it’s amazing) alone is worth the price of admission. But then throw in the introspective lyrics about one’s own need for change, for saving grace, and the fears that drive all of that:
Well I’m staring straight into the face of hell
You’re so close and you can’t even tell
I’m so wrapped up inside
Because I don’t have much to love
Horrified I reel from pits unseen
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
All these gongs and cymbals ring inside my head
Surrendered body to the flames has singed the skin
Can’t speak in tongues and even if I could it’s nothing
Because I cannot love
Clearly inspired by I Corinthians chapter 13, there is an added existential crisis that all honest people can relate to. Added layered guitars, more bass echoes, and you have a strangely beautiful pop song about raw honesty and existential dread. Who knew it would work so well?