Goodbye, Hotel Arkada is a wistful album that seldom sounds sad. This may be the byproduct of perspective; perhaps it is the presence of collaborators. The hotel of the title is already in the process of transformation, undergoing a Ship of Theseus-like renovation. Mary Lattimore had one last chance to cherish the silver ladders and painted halls of the Croatian retreat; looking back, she reflected upon the experience.
The harp is well suited for such musings: an ancient instrument that is associated with the afterlife, and as such has a Janus-like tone. Ephemeral encounters are bittersweet. Their impermanence procures for them a painful beauty that yearns for grace. “And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me” is a perfect vessel for the feeling attached to memory. Surprisingly, and yet pleasingly, the title refers to a hug from Big Bird, described beautifully in the liner notes as “a canary yellow embrace.” Meg Baird’s wordless, cooing voice is the personification of comfort.
The confident nature of “Arrivederci” obscures its painful origin. Lattimore had just been “fired from a project because she hadn’t play her harp parts well enough,” which we find unimaginable. Through her tears, she began to write. The Cure’s Lol Tolhust, liked the song, and now appears on it: a happy ending set in motion by pain. The story exemplifies the mixed emotions of the album: loss and sorrow on one hand, gratitude and surrender on the other. On “Blender in a Blender,” Lattimore lets the song itself go, gifting Roy Montgomery the conclusion.
Goodbye to innocence. Goodbye to memory. Goodbye to youth. One thing is replaced by another, like the chandeliers of the Hotel Arkada. But what shall they be replaced with? Lattimore suggests that the answer can take the form of an elegy. In “Horses, Glossy on the Hill,” the opening passages sound like horses, the closing passages like the memory of horses, as Lattimore writes, “bottled for a brief second.” One may honor what one is losing even in the process of it being lost.
Nico once sang, “And what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow’s parties?” Lattimore responds, decades later, with “Yesterday’s Parties,” time’s arrow reversed, emotions flipped. Once one mourned what could be; now one celebrates what was. (Richard Allen)