In keeping with the quality of their magical, laconic music, the success of Mazzy Star’s second album, So Tonight That I Might See, seemingly came out of nowhere. Eventually going platinum, the record’s unexpected climb to commercial prominence began on the back of the surprise success of its second single, the dreamily atmospheric “Fade Into You,” which rose into the Billboard Top 50 seven months after its parent album first hit the racks on October 5, 1993.
Gloriously out of step with the zeitgeist, the introspective So Tonight That I Might See bore scant relation to the grunge-y guitar records dominating the alt-rock scene of 1993/94. Indeed, “Fade Into You” ironically began its steady ascent up the Billboard chart while the world mourned the death of Nirvana’s iconic frontman Kurt Cobain.
Mazzy Star had already made a virtue of being out of step with the times. Their ethereal debut, She Hangs Brightly, also went against the grain when it was released in 1990. At that time, the Manchester-centric indie-dance revolution ruled the roost in the UK, while in the US, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and others were signing contracts with major labels, and grunge was about to explode onto the international stage.
So who exactly were the enigmatic Mazzy Star? Hardly a band per se, they were a co-writing duopoly of guitarist David Roback and husky-voiced Hope Sandoval. The former played a significant role with critically lauded, LA-based psych-popsters The Rain Parade, while Sandoval had previously played with Going Home, a folk-rock outfit best known for gigging with US underground luminaries including Sonic Youth and The Minutemen during the 80s.
After The Rain Parade split, Roback formed Opal with his then-girlfriend, Kendra Smith, formerly bassist with LA quartet The Dream Syndicate. Sketching the blueprint for Mazzy Star, Opal’s music contained evocative hints of blues, folk and fragrant psychedelia, and their 1987 debut, Happy Nightmare Baby, attracted positive critical notices.
With Sandoval replacing Smith, Opal’s putative second album (working title: Ghost Highway) eventually morphed into She Hangs Brightly after Roback and Sandoval composed new songs. Released by Rough Trade in May 1990, the record’s key tracks included the languid, sensual “Halah” and the incense-like drift of the alluring, Doors-esque title cut, and its enticing contents wowed the critics en masse. Among those especially smitten were UK weekly Sounds staffer, the late Leo Finlay, whose review declared that “to hear this LP is to fall in love”, and Rolling Stone’s Gina Arnold, who described Sandoval’s voice as “entrancing as the reflection of an ominous night sky on a lake.”
Though not a mainstream hit, the buzz-building She Hangs Brightly sold an impressive 70,000 copies in the UK, and when Rough Trade US folded late in 1990, Capitol signed Mazzy Star, reissuing She Hangs Brightly and paving the way for So Tonight That I Might See.
The product of ad hoc studio sessions, with bassist Jason Yates and ex-Green On Red/Opal drummer Keith Mitchell contributing as required, So Tonight That I Might See made no attempt to hide its rough’n’ready nature, with “She’s My Baby” and the grinding, “Venus In Furs”-esque titular song sounding almost wilfully loose.
More often than not, however, the album nonchalantly sauntered towards genius, not least on the droning, acid-tinged “Mary Of Silence,” the duo’s skeletal, cello-enhanced cover of Arthur Lee’s “Five String Serenade” and the strung-out blues-rock of the aptly-titled “Wasted” – this latter accentuated by Roback’s screes of feedback and coruscating, Robby Krieger-esque slide guitar.
The record initially sold modestly, despite attracting tuned-in critics such as Los Angeles Times’ Steve Hochman, who enthusiastically proclaimed that it “may well be the best psychedelic blues album since Cream.”
However, just when observers were preparing to file it away as a slow-burning niche record, So Tonight That I Might See started its stealthy ascent up the Billboard chart, peaking at No.36 and moving a million copies. Proving that good things come to those prepared to wait, heavy US radio rotation of “Halah” then introduced She Hangs Brightly to a whole new generation of fans, earning Mazzy Star a belated, but well-deserved gold disc in the process.