Getting hold of this record was definitely a pivotal “right record, right place, right time” thing for me. Those early days of Sub Pop were a genuinely exciting time, as with so much to pick and choose from in those heady days before the internet came along and spoilt every last vestige of surprise, you were never quite sure what you were going to end up with. It didn’t help that Sub Pop’s 7″ releases were all similarly designed, with the band’s name and title on a strip at the top of the sleeve, with a B&W photo of the band in question taking up the rest of the cover.
I have a compilation of tunes from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, curated by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich – during almost every enthusiastic description of each band and how he discovered them, Lars mentions the energy and excitement that emanated from the live photos on the covers of his favourite singles. And this is an approach that Sub Pop carried right through all their early 7 and 12″ releases, featuring photos almost uniformly taken by Charles Peterson, someone whose contribution to selling the Sub Pop “brand” cannot easily be underestimated.
The cover to Change Has Come follows this trend, but is markedly different to its labelmates which is what first attracted me to it. Where Peterson’s live cover shots usually convey complete and utter youthful chaos, featuring motion blur and strangely-angled “which way up is he exactly?” snapshots (the covers to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff and Nirvana’s Blew are perfect examples), Change Has Come‘s cover has a slightly calmer feel to it – Gary Lee Conner on the left of the picture is bent double over his guitar, but is in sharp focus and has his feet planted firmly together with his hair hanging down rather than flailing wildly. Next to him, vocalist Mark Lanegan looks over, calmly and impassively. In short, it looks like a standard Sub Pop sleeve, but the suggestion of some sort of control to the chaos makes it one of Peterson’s most exciting covershots. Buying it without listening to a single note was a complete no-brainer because of this.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Screaming Trees, Change Has Come is a perfect introduction. Following from their final album for SST, Buzz Factory, and coming before their move to a major label with Uncle Anesthesia on Epic, it bridges the gap between youthful exuberance and a more thoughtful approach. And, much in the same way that My Jerusalem introduced themselves with Without Feathers, the Screaming Trees manage to do more with five tracks here than other bands can muster with a whole album.
The music itself is almost exactly as described by the cover photo – brash and edgy, but with an element of control and maturity that the rest of Sub Pop’s roster gloriously lacked at that point. It begins with the title track’s punchy intro followed by Mark Lanegan’s very laid back vocals, followed by the more urgent Days and the Kiss-riffage of Flashes. Where the timeless quality of this EP comes into its own however is in the final two tracks. Time Speaks Her Golden Tongue is a beautiful song and wholly unlike anything else that was out there at the time, showcasing a warmth in Lanegan’s vocals that would begin to dominate future releases. I’ve Seen You Before ends the record with a Velvet Underground-esque hypnotic drone with the vocals again taking centre stage with some eerie double-tracking.
And then, just over quarter of an hour after it started, it’s over. After the first listen, my immediate response was to listen to it all over again and then get the next train back into Manchester and buy as much of their back-catalogue as I could find, among which was a vinyl copy of Buzz Factory that was such a dark blue that it was five years before I noticed that it wasn’t black.
I guess that, like any band which has defined musical periods defined by sound or lineup (Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd etc), every fan has their favourite era – and I suppose that in the case of the Screaming Trees, many would pick the more structured days that followed the release of Sweet Oblivion, and a few older types may argue that the buzz-edged psychedelia of their early albums contained a joyful innocence that didn’t belong on their latter releases.
For me, it’s this five track EP that occupies the crack between what came before and what was to come afterwards.