From one surprise to another. Following the trilogy of "a capella" albums, Jandek clears the slate for an entirely new phase and seems quite conscious of doing so. Right off one notices the cover, which turns out to be a picture of Cork, Ireland (and, judging by later, similar covers, a vacation shot). This is the first time that a cover has featured a foreign location (that we know of), and rather than the "blurred" quality of many recent photos this looks like it could have come out of a travel magazine. Then there is the music.
This is obviously a much older man than the one we heard on the previous music albums. His voice resembles that of the a capella albums, but now he trades his old vocal phrasings for a gravelly-voiced moan that builds - often in tandem with the dark lyrics - to a howling blues wail not unlike Delta blues pioneer Tommy Johnson. The guitar tuning is also something different, a more dissonant sound than ever. Gone are the warm tones that defined much of the "second acoustic phase." Also gone from that era are the picked blueslines (see White Box Requiem) and varied instrumentation. The songs are also longer than ever - between eight and twelve minutes - and there are only five of them.
In other words, when the artist begins the album by singing "Let me tell you about my blues/my blues have turned black/Black black black black...And my rotting, stinking flesh/black black black black," take it at face value. This forms a "travelogue of the living dead" of sorts, with the artist explaining that he's a "zombie on the inside/unknown on the outside." This has been speculated to possibly relating to his health, but it is never explicitly stated. Instead, the long chaotic songs form a series of minimalist "sung monologues" (there is a spoken element to much of the "un-moaned" sections of the songs) directed at a person that sometimes seems to be a lover, and sometimes seems to be the listener. Regardless, the narrator has a spiritual message to offer, saying, "I tried to be happy/what a foolish thing/the gems of the universe/don’t care about that" and advising the listener that "There’s nothing but a pathway/follow your footsteps." (An obvious reference both to an earlier song and the album Follow Your Footsteps.) From there the album follows the path of the narrator as he ponders the love he "threw away," then re-addresses his fellow traveller saying, "walk with me frozen beauty/as I reclaim my life" before ending the album by saying that at the end of the road, "All the differences disappear/and a quiet calm floats me in the air." Ultimately, it seems the artist has a message he strongly needs to get across, and this tortured, dissonant music is how he's going to do it.