In the period leading up to the release of 1999's outstanding Good Morning Spider, Sparklehorse mastermind Mark Linkous spent months in a wheelchair after spending three minutes dead of a drug reaction. The album's wild-eyed hodgepodge of styles and sounds seemed to reflect the chaos that preceded it, cramming ideas into every cranny and careening from scabrous noise to sweet-natured balladry in the space of a single song. Linkous has settled down considerably for It's A Wonderful Life, a collection of more subdued tracks that parallel his newfound clean-living stability while involving a host of guest collaborators. Of course, those familiar with Sparklehorse's sideways rock know that stability and normalcy are relative in Linkous' world—on the album's deliberately paced title track, he seethes, "I'm full of bees who died at sea"—but the songs here are far more self-contained and linear than those on Good Morning Spider. Ironically, the consistency of It's A Wonderful Life's dreamy, narcotic tone tends to detract from the consistency of its quality, in large part because the first few tracks set the bar so high. The haunting "Gold Day" sounds like a classic Flaming Lips song inexplicably pulled from The Soft Bulletin (is any producer working today more immediately recognizable than the two albums' Dave Fridmann?), while the agreeably propulsive "Piano Fire" puts guest vocalist Polly Jean Harvey to effective use. From there, though, the highlights become a bit more sporadic. Tom Waits' jarring appearance on "Dog Door" is an immediate standout, mostly because it couldn't sound further out of place, while "King Of Nails" sculpts a marvelous rock song out of its ample guitar fuzz. The virtually misfire-free It's A Wonderful Life comes highly recommended, but it might have been a masterpiece had Linkous' madness manifested fully a bit more often.