Proctor & Bergman
Antipop (1999, 63.15) ***/T
Electric Uncle Sam
Greet the Scared Cow
Mama Didn't Raise No Fool
|Dirty Drowning Man
Ballad of Bodacious
Final Voyage of the Liquid Sky
Coattails of a Dead Man
Primus seem to have been around for ever; they weren't a new band when they supported the mighty Rush in 1992, and Antipop is their sixth album in a decade. Describing their sound isn't that simple; bossman Les Claypool's unfortunate tendency to play slap bass gets them labelled 'funk metal', but there's an awful lot more to the band than that, with elements of their sound straying into the avant-garde at times. Difficult to pick out Antipop's highlights, but the unlisted final track (apparently an unrecorded live fave called The Heckler) is particularly good, ironically.
Tom Waits had already guested on their breakthrough record, 1991's Sailing the Seas of Cheese, so it's not that surprising he turns up again here. In fact, Coattails Of A Dead Man is essentially a Waits song that seems to have wandered off and ended up on somebody else's album, so if you've heard his stuff, you'll know what to expect. Waits not only sings the track, but also plays his beloved Chamberlin on it, too, with a suitably cranky strings part, a portion of which seems to have been excised for album opener Intro, too.
So; if you're a Primus fan, you'll probably already own this, and if you're not, the chances of you liking it are smaller rather than greater, but you might be surprised. One good Chamby track, albeit in a Waits vein. The band's finest hour? Indubitably their bizarre title music for South Park, which sounds like none of the members could hear any of the others while they were recording. Probably couldn't.
See: Tom Waits
Prince (1977, 44.34) ***½/TVoyage
De la Terre à l'Ether
Les Fils du Ciel
Late-'70s French band Prince are not only totally obscure, but (of course) have had the appalling luck to have their name usurped by a later, enormously famous artiste, although, in fairness, Prince Rogers Nelson has every right to use his given name... Prince (France) were essentially an electronic outfit with progressive tendencies, so there's plenty of Tangerine Dream-style synth work (they sound more 'Berlin' than French contemporaries such as Heldon or Besombes-Rizet), although the female vocals on a couple of tracks, along with occasional piano, separate them from the many Tangs clones around at the time.
The unknown keyboard player(s) use their Mellotron sparingly and only for choirs, with a short chordal part near the end of the near-side long Voyage, with even less of the same on De La Terre À L'Ether and Les Fils Du Ciel, making this a somewhat inessential album on the 'Tron front. So; believe me, you're not going to find this album easily, not least due to the confusion with their somewhat better-known namesake. It's not a bad record, but not something you should really go too far out of your way to acquire, to be honest, unless you're a completely mad EM collector; it's honestly not worth it on the Mellotron front, unlike the almost-equally obscure Quarteto 1111, to pick an unknown Mellotron classic at random. Ordinary.
Chaos & Disorder (1996, 39.10) ***/T
|Chaos and Disorder
I Like it There
Dinner With Delores
Right the Wrong
I Rock, Therefore I am
Into the Light
Dig U Better Dead
Chaos & Disorder seems to be generally regarded as the better of the two contractural obligation albums Prince made for Warner Bros in the mid-'90s, while in the middle of his 'symbol' phase and battle with Warners over his future. It's nowhere near as commercial as his major '80s albums, but is by no means a bad record, with several fun tracks such as I Like It There and I Rock, Therefore I Am. I'm probably not the best-qualified person to review Prince's music, but this album certainly didn't offend me.
One Mellotron track, the brief closer Had U, though I have my suspicions regarding the origin of the sound. While this was some years before the M-Tron and the other easily-available modern sample banks, Roland and E-Mu (or however you spell it) had both released PCM sample-based boxes containing the basic 'Tron sounds, and I can't imagine Prince bringing one in for one track, let alone owning one. But who knows?
Anyway, one OK 'Tron track (real or otherwise), one OK Prince album.
Pointless official site
See: Wendy & Lisa
In From the Cold (1986, 33.48) ***½/½
|All You Gotta Do is Say
The More That I Teach You
Mourn My Health
I Know How to Please You
In From the Cold
Wish the Rain
|Be on Your Way
Find and Seek
Ain't No Telling
The Prisoners formed in 1982 in the musically fertile region of the UK sardonically known as the Thames Delta, or Chatham, Kent (one of the Medway towns), for those who know the area. The region has also spawned a million bands fronted by the notorious Billy Childish, which might give you some idea of where they were coming from, as should their name, referencing Patrick McGoohan's iconic '60s cult TV series. Usually referred to as a 'mod revival' band, The Prisoners were a far better thing than that suggests, sounding more like an updated Spencer Davis Group than anyone else, with a heavy '60s/soul/R&B thing going on.
In From the Cold, with its spy film connotations, was their original incarnation's last album, released on the inimitable Stiff label, for whom it must have been one of their last releases, as they folded that year. I've read that it's 'substandard', but sounds pretty good to my ears, with lashings of James Taylor's Hammond, then a most unfashionable instrument (vile times, the '80s), and a good set of songs, not least the lovely ballad Mourn My Health. It's this track that Taylor attacks with a Mellotron, though not to any great effect, with a brief cello part that doesn't particularly enhance the song. Full kudos for hiring and using one at the height of 'Tron loathing, though, not to mention putting it on a thoroughly decent album.
So; not much cop on the 'Tron front, but an excellent little pseudo-'60s R&B effort from an era of unmitigated shite. Your starter for ten: name ten artists who didn't go totally to shit in the '80s. Go on, I dare you. I'll start: Richard Thompson.
Official James Taylor Quartet site
Frontiera (1972, 39.37) ***½/T½Ancora una Notte
Uomini e Illusioni
Anche io Sono un Uomo
Un Mondo di Libertà
Un'Ombra Che Vaga
Procession's first album, Frontiera, can probably be described as 'heavy progressive', 1972 version, with a twin-guitar attack and no keyboard player, although it has quite a few acoustic passages. Much as I hate to say it, like so many bands of the era, they do sound a little dated, though hopefully not to the point where fans of '70s rock might be put off. Best track? Probably the longest, Un Mondo Di Libertà, although the Incontro/Anche Io Sono Un Uomo segue runs it a close second.
It's hard to tell who plays the Mellotron without reading Italian, but it looks like it's probably Luigi Filippo on Incontro/Anche Io Sono Un Uomo, with strings and what has to be dextrously-played flutes on the former and a lovely string part on the latter. Sadly, that seems to be it for the album, and while it's rumoured there's some 'Tron on their second (and last) effort, Fiaba, that isn't the case. So; not a bad album, but a long way from full-blown prog, and fairly minor in the Mellotron stakes, too.
TV or Not TV (1973, 40.25) ***/T
Channel 85 Sign-on
Escaping From the Declining Fall of
the Roaming Umpire, Chapter XIII
Salute My Boots
The Channel 85 Story
|Communist Love Song
Channel 85 Reply
Tobor Radar Robot
The Pills Brothers on Drugs
The MZ Information Society
Bring Us Together
Our Lady of the Torch
Emerging Fall of the Roaming Umpire, Program VII
Give Up This Day
Channel 85 Sign-Off
For those of you/us who aren't American, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman were half of fêted Goons-influenced comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre; if you haven't heard them, imagine a US version of contemporaries Monty Python, written and performed by American intellectuals as against British Oxbridge types, their humour filtered through American TV and drug culture. Does this leave you any the wiser? Thought not. Starting on radio, they quickly diversified into LPs, releasing thirty or so between 1968 and 2010, not including solo projects/offshoots.
Speaking of which... 1973's TV or Not TV (ho ho!) was the first of three Proctor/Bergman albums; Firesign fans and reviewers more knowledgeable than myself say that it's more focussed than most of the group work, which makes me wonder what the hell that's like. The concept, such as it is, is of a mythical cable TV station, Channel 85; the album is sequenced like a particularly bizarre broadcast, complete with interviews, readings and musical interludes (Communist Love Song is most amusing). The humour is... distinctive. Much like Python (or, more pertinently, The Goons), I suspect you had to grow up with this stuff to really find it funny; its self-referential asides and obscure references leave many listeners out in the cold, which isn't to denigrate it in any way, merely to say that it's an acquired taste. Sample dialogue: "Now, I'm going to repeat that again for those of you who are on drugs". Does that sum this up?
An unknown musician adds a little Mellotron to the album, weirdly, with a graunchy cello line in Police Lineup, complete with pitchbend, string and brass chords in Salute My Boots and clunky flute notes in Tobor Radar Robot. This isn't the first comedy album to make it onto Planet Mellotron, but it might just be the weirdest. Rumour has it that at least one Firesign album also contains Mellotron; I've actually reviewed this from YouTube, so a little searching and a few hours (groan) of listening may reveal some more. A project for a rainy day, methinks. n.b. I've now listened to their entire early '70s output and there's nothing obvious, for what it's worth.
Official Firesign Theatre site
Peter Bergman's Radio Free Oz
Wine of Life (1993, 53.09) ***½/T½
Wine of Life
You Still Think
Shut Your Mouth
That's When I Love You
In Another Land
What About Yourself
Holland's The Prodigal Sons are another outfit in the grand Dutch tradition of accurately recycling American musical traditions for the home market (note: this is not a snarky put-down), alongside Golden Earring's hard rock and a host of country acts, amongst others. I can't tell you much about them, other than that they released at least two albums, the earlier of which, 1993's Wine of Life, sounds like a Euro version of The Georgia Satellites, or maybe Jason & the Scorchers: riffing Americana, a straight cross between country- and hard rock, top tracks including opener Last Song, That's When I Love You, the storming Gone and epic closer Dark Days.
Someone called (or calling himself) DiMaestro plays Mellotron on two tracks, with strings on In Another Land, only properly audible at the end of the track and an effective flute part, shifting into strings on Dark Days, unlikely to be samples, in those pre-easily-available sample-set times. In all honesty, I'd never heard of The Prodigal Sons until their Mellotron usage became an issue, but I'm happy to've made their musical acquaintance. Worth the effort.
Drumlesson Zwei (2010, 67.39) ***/T
Groove la Chord
Oxygène (Part IV)
Jaguar (Part One)
|Jaguar (Part Two)
The Munich-based Christian Prommer is a DJ and percussionist, operating since the late '80s. Drumlesson is his jazz/techno project, combining the two forms into a critically-acclaimed unique fusion, simultaneously channelling the '60s and the '90s into an instrumental stew of organ, synths, beatboxes and hand drums. Unsurprisingly, 2010's Drumlesson Zwei is the project's second full-lengther, a decent enough effort, albeit a good twenty minutes too long to sustain (this) listener's interest. Despite its heavy rearrangement, I recognised track seven before I even looked at its title: a groovy cover of Jean Michel Jarre's massive 1977 hit Oxygène (Part IV).
Roberto di Gioia plays real-sounding Mellotron on Jaguar (Part Two), with a brass melody and stabbed choir chords, although that would appear to be it. This is an album for hipster types who feel the need to grow out of their clubbing past, although I imagine it makes for good stoner listening, too. One reasonable Mellotron track with a refreshingly different approach, but not really worth it for that alone.
Balinese Dancer (1993, 42.41) ***/0
110° in the Shade
Starcrossed Misbegotten Love
One Last Dance
Who am I Foolin
Heart Breaks Like the Dawn
Somewhere Down the Road
The Hurting Business (2000, 47.45) ***½/TT
The Hurting Business
It Won't Be Long
I Couldn't Be Happier
Dyin' All Young
Statehouse (Burning in the Rain)
Chuck Prophet (surely his real name?) used to lead Green on Red, '80s precursors of both the new psychedelia and Americana before either was fashionable, leading to their untimely demise in the early '90s. Prophet has gone on to release several solo albums, with the latest news (early 2006) being that Green on Red are having another go. Balinese Dancer was Prophet's second album, and doesn't sound a million miles away from his alma mater, with countryish material like 110° In The Shade and Starcrossed Misbegotten Love mixed with rockier propositions such as Savannah. I even detect echoes of legendary late-'70s Noo Yawkers Television in places, though that could be simply that distinctive Fender-through-Fender guitar sound. Mellotron on one track, Somewhere Down The Road, from Prophet, although I have to say that's it's completely inaudible, presumably disappearing under esteemed guest Al Kooper's unusual Hammond B-2.
Prophet used a Mellotron on one other album, 2000's The Hurting Business, properly this time. It's a better album, too, particularly lyrically, top efforts including Apology, I Couldn't Be Happier and the beautiful turnaround of Lucky. Three 'Tron tracks from Jason Borger, with a distant, pitchbent string part on opener Rise and more fairly distant strings on the excellent Apology, leaving the album's chief 'Tron track as God's Arms, with more upfront pitchbent strings and occasional flutes.
So; Balinese Dancer's for hardened Americana devotees, mainly, while The Hurting Business, despite its occasional irritating modern production touches, is a far more well-rounded release, with vastly better (as in 'audible') Mellotron use.
Broken Door (1975, 39.39) ***½/T½Beginning
Burning in the Sun
Dance of an Angel
Birds of Passage
Where the Sun Touches the Water
Prosper pedalled a not-very Germanic kind of jazz-prog crossover, with English-language vocals and hints of King Crimson in places, not to mention the fairly ubiquitous Krautrock element that seemed almost obligatory in Germany at the time. Broken Door isn't the easiest listen ever, but it contains some sublime moments, and is the sort of album that rewards repeated listening.
There's only two obvious Mellotron tracks here, with slightly discordant strings on Beginning and Broken Door, matching the Frippian guitar work. As a result, I can't really recommend this on the Mellotron front, but if you like your jazz rock, you'll be in the proverbial seventh heaven.
Providence (2013, recorded 1981-82, 52.58) ***½/TTT½
Until... Until is Here
Burg of Rhyme
Stay Right Here
A Cybernetic Nightmare
Where's the Snake?
Violence is Golden
Superstitions of Superman
After his mid-to-late '70s experiments, Craig P. Smith formed Providence (named for the Crimson track, rather than the town for which the Crimson track was named), Their recordings have finally been made publicly available, allowing us to hear that the band played a kind of early '80s new wave-influenced prog, influences clearly including '70s and Discipline-era Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator, along with snippets of Saga and even British neo-prog, although I've no idea what recordings may have made their way across the Atlantic by this point. Merely synchronicity? Stylistically, opener Aquatic Mirrors is an analogue synth-lover's dream, Stay Right Here features that new wave influence in its clean guitars, Down Range has something of the post-punk sector about it, while A Cybernetic Nightmare sounds like contemporaneous Hawkwind (who also took current influences on board in the early '80s).
Craig and Mark Fasula play Craig's M400 on much of the album, with choirs on Aquatic Mirrors, strings on Until... Until Is Here, cellos, slightly screechy strings and background choirs on Burg Of Rhyme, string and flute melodies, with occasional background choirs, on Stay Right Here, more phased strings on Alien Interviews, choirs on A Cybernetic Nightmare, strings on Where's The Snake? and muted choirs on closer Millenium Mirrors, although, perhaps surprisingly, nothing on the nine-minute, four-part Epic Chaos. As with Craig's other downloadable albums, since this won't cost you a penny (dialup hopefully having gone the way of the dinosaurs), you might just as well grab a copy to see what you think. For what it's worth, I'm of the opinion that there's much to like about this material, not least plenty of Mellotron. Worth hearing.
See: Eternal Void | Craig P. Smith
Sogni in una Goccia di Cristallo (2011, 53.03) ***/TT½Preludio ai Sogni
Claustrofobicaria pt 1
Libera Mente Sola
Il Gioco di Giada
L'Occhio del Diavolo
Claustrofobicaria pt 2
The original Prowlers released three albums in the '90s, then split, Tilion rising from their ashes. Over a decade later, they've opted to give it another go, presumably taking advantage of a gap in Tilion's schedule, releasing Sogni in una Goccia di Cristallo in 2011. If you're expecting any kind of 'typical' Italian progressive album, expect again: this opens with the near-ambient Preludio Ai Sogni, only to lurch sharply to one side for the funky, mainstream female-fronted pop/rock of Claustrofobicaria Pt 1, the more typically progressive Asia, the thirteen-minute Libera Mente Sola and the experimental, synth-heavy L'Occhio Del Diavolo. Schizophrenic? Ever so slightly... I presume what we get is what the band were after, but had I been involved in the album's production, I might've chopped about ten minutes and made a much better album out of what was left.
Alfio Costa plays his trusty M400, with strings on opener Preludio Ai Sogni and closer Claustrofobicaria Pt 2, flutes on Libera Mente Sola and flutes and strings on L'Occhio Del Diavolo, all to good effect. Can I recommend this? Hmmm... It definitely has its moments, but not enough for me to say, "Yeah, spend a wodge of your hard-earned on it", I'm afraid to say. Passable, but could do better.
Hell is Invisible/Heaven is Her/e (2007, 73.44) **½/½
|Higher and Higher
In Thee Body
Lies, and Then
New York Story
I Don't Think So
|I'm Making a Mirror
Although I've been aware of Neil "Genesis P-Orridge" Megson's projects (principally Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV) since the late '70s, I think this is the first time I've ever actually heard any of his work. 2007's Hell is Invisible/Heaven is Her/e is PTV's thirty-somethingth release, delving heavily into the ever-confrontational P-Orridge's gender-bending (or 'pandrogynous') lifestyle, also the last recorded work of his second wife and 'other half', Jacqueline "Lady Jaye" Breyer, before her untimely death in October of that year. I'm sure PTV fans will lap (or, more likely, have lapped) this up, but its eclectic approach is likely only to appeal to the select few.
The actual material veers between funk, rock, ambient, various dance sub-genres and avant-garde, although whether or not it's actually any good can only be a matter of very personal opinion. There's something about opener Higher And Higher that reminds me horribly of Bros' When Will I Be Famous? (remember them? Thought not), full of appalling, dated slap-bass. Lies, And Then is somewhat leaden rock, the lengthy I Don't Think So a sort-of harrowing exposition of P-Orridge's childhood, Just Because is what a whiny punk number would sound like if it were ten minutes long, while just about every other track on this rather overlong album sounds like something different again.
Kosta Cross plays Mellotron on Lies, And Then, with a distant string part that probably isn't played on a real machine, although (as so often) it's almost impossible to tell. I'm not sure I can really recommend this to the 'average' listener, whoever he/she (or, of course, s/he) is, but I doubt whether it'll disappoint fans of P-Orridge's previous work. Don't even think about it for its minimal Mellotron content, though.
The Psycho Realm (1997, 57.32) **/T½
|Psycho City Blocks/Psycho Interlude
The Big Payback
Doors Intro/Confessions of a Drug Addict
Who Are You Interlude/Bullets
|Love Letters Intro/Love From the Sick Side
La Conecta Intro/La Conecta (pt. 1)
La Conecta (pt. 2)/Goin' in Circles Outro
In order to take The Psycho Realm at all seriously, you have to take one thing for granted: in their hip-hop world, words/lyrics/'rhymes'/whatever assume far greater importance than the actual musical content, leaving those of us on the outside bewildered and bored after about half the first track. The Psycho Realm is French hip-hop with English-language rapping, presumably in an attempt to appeal to the international audience, although I've no idea whether or not they've actually managed to achieve this. In fairness, the album isn't completely predictable, with a harpsichord part on Preminitions, although it's probably a series of lengthy samples rather than someone actually playing all the way through. In fact, several tracks feature classical samples; they've probably worked out a way not to have to pay royalties on them, while giving them a minor advantage over their competitors by doing something slightly different, while not being different enough to entirely alienate the typical rather conservative hip-hop fan. Cynical? Moi?
Mellotron on a few tracks from Randy Cantor, with a couple of string chords on Psycho Interlude that sound 'played once, then sampled', with 'proper', albeit boring playing on The Big Payback and Temporary Insanity. It's probably at its most obvious on Who Are You Interlude, although it sounds like a sampled phrase again, with more of the same on Love From The Sick Side, after the particularly obnoxious Love Letters Intro. Why does this stuff have to be so aggressive, and why is everyone a 'motherfucker', motherfucker? Tediously, unthinkingly sheeplike. More of the same on Psyclones, and that's your lot. If you were to add up the minutes of 'Tron use here, it would probably be relatively high, but if you could add up the amount of time Cantor actually played it, the figure would be very different, which accounts for the low T rating above.
So; do you give a shit about what some bunch of blokes feel they need to go around shouting about? Pretty much a central tenet with this stuff, so unless you synpathise with, er, whatever injustice it is they're going on about, you're probably going to be left pretty cold by this. I know I was. A surprising amount of Mellotron, although the bulk of it seems to be odd phrases sampled and repeated ad nauseam in typical hip-hop style. Y'know what, chaps? Do something REALLY outrageous: record an album using real musicians throughout and eschew repetition for creativity. Oh, sorry; I suppose you'd evolve out of your style completely, and your fanbase would evaporate. Typical.
Send (1997, 50.22) ***/0Keep Breathing
Sea of Tranquility
I remember Dean Carter doing his Hammill-esque thing in London clubs in the mid-'90s, although he had trouble making an impression on what I'm told is one of the world's toughest crowds. Maybe sensibly, he turned to space-rock soon after with Psychomuzak, getting a deal with notorious space cadets Delerium, then still home to Porcupine Tree. It seems Carter only released two albums under this moniker, though, 1994's The Extasie and Send, from three years later.
A bewildering blend of styles, Send sounds as much like the Ozric Tentacles as Gong or Steve Hillage and very little like Peter Hammill or Van der Graaf. '70s Pink Floyd are utilised as a jumping-off point on opener Keep Breathing (even sounds like a late-period Floyd title), complete with Camel/Bevis Frond drummer Andy Ward, while Deep Heat is an Ozrics-style dub excursion. The album's longest track, the trippy Send itself features David Cross (ex-Crimson, of course) on violin, leaving the relatively brief Sea Of Tranquility as possibly the most coherent piece here, six minutes of fittingly tranquil guitar overdubs.
Carter's credited with Mellotron, amongst other things, although it's perfectly possible he's using the same sample set as Steven Wilson's crew. Actually, it's perfectly possible he didn't use anything at all, as there's nothing here that actually sounds like a Mellotron. The strings on Keep Breathing? Nope. Female voices on Deep Heat? Definitely nope, not to mention that Carter's also credited with 'choirs'. Anything else? Not really, no. Where is it, Dean?
Overall, then, a reasonable spacey effort, should you be into such things. It makes good background music (the dub bits aside), but actually sitting down and listening to it is a bit of a chore, at least to this listener. No obvious Mellotron, either, so I'd really have trouble recommending this to you lot.
Official record company site
We Are Just as Welcome as Holy Water in Satan's Drink (1999, 37.10) ***/½
|Down in Flames
Good for Nothing at All
Stranded (for Holly Ramone)
Dear Life: Sweet Nothing
Cold Heart Disaster
Back for Good
The title of Psychopunch's We Are Just as Welcome as Holy Water in Satan's Drink might give you some idea where this lot are coming from: raucous garage-metal, punk, rock'n'roll... Obvious influences include The Sex Pistols and AC/DC, two bands once considered mortal enemies, a viewpoint that looks a little anachronistic three decades on. It's full of anthems to taking drugs and fucking like Straightjacket Hell, Cold Heart Disaster and crazed closer Back For Good; difficult to disagree with, frankly, assuming you have even a drop of rock'n'roll in your soul. If the album has a fault, it's that it's rather one-dimensional, but variety's never been this genre's strong point, has it?
Jonas Stålhammar plays Mellotron on two tracks, with background choirs on Straightjacket Hell and even more background strings on Stranded (For Holly Ramone). Real? Hard to say; the string note at the end of Stranded holds for just about the maximum time and wobbles slightly in the middle, so maybe it is. Anyway, decidedly not worth it for the Mellotron, but a good, raw blast of kick-you-in-the-teeth rock'n'roll.
Nice (2003, 48.53) ***½/T
Angel of Love
Long Beach Nightmare
Your Love is a Drug
|K2G (Kimi Ni Go!)
Teen Titans Theme
Bring it! (2009, 48.02) ***/T½
|I Don't Wanna
Shuen no Onna
Twilight Shooting Star!
|All Because of You
Anata to Watashi
Bring it on
Puffy, or Puffy AmiYumi outside Japan (due to a threatened lawsuit from that buffoon Sean "Puffy"/"Puff Daddy"/"Puff Diddy"/Puff-whatever-the-fuck) are the female duo of Ami Onuki and Yumi Yoshimura, solo artists for Sony who teamed up and hit big, selling millions of albums in their native country. They have had their own TV show and even a cartoon series in the States, where they appeal strongly to pre-teens, as far as I can work out. Given that they were named and are produced by ex-Jellyfish drummer Andy Sturmer, giving them a vastly better sound than most J-Pop, with loads of powerpop and other American influences, I think this can generally be regarded as a Good Thing. OK, you may be put off by the typically cutesy girl vocals (mostly in Japanese), but, going by 2003's Nice, songs of the quality of Planet Tokyo, Sayonara and Invisible Tomorrow put this several levels above what you might expect. Sturmer's credited with Mellotron and Chris James with Chamberlin, but all I can hear are (Mellotron?) flutes and (Chamberlin?) strings on Angel Of Love, although I'm sure they're buried away elsewhere on the album. Nice John and Yoko reference on the sleeve, too.
Six years and several albums on, Bring it! appeared in 2009. Nominally very similar to Nice, I'm afraid to say that the material's rather less appealing, although not enough to mark it down too heavily, although I have to mention parts of Anata To Watashi's similarity to 10cc's The Things We Do For Love. Uncredited Mellotron (and Chamberlin?), with a nice string part on Bye Bye and some background flute chords on My Hero!, Hare Onna and All Because Of You, although none of it adds up to all that much, really.
So; two albums in a similar style, one rather better than the other, proving the point that it's all down to the songwriting at the end of the day. More tape-replay work on Bring it! than on Nice, but the latter's single track is more impressive than any of the four on the former.
Jollity (2005, 44.01) ****/T½
|It's Nice to Be Nice
A Rose in a Garden of Weeds
I Want You Back in My Life
This Could Be Good
Eleven Modern Antiquities (2008, 37.34) ****/TTT½
|Take Me Away
It's So Fine
Song for You
The Cannon and the Bell
At the Sea
Thomas Walsh's Pugwash (clearly named after the good captain) are the latest in a long and honourable line of 'intelligent pop' outfits, influenced by the 'B's - The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Big Star, The Byrds etc., not to mention later adherents such as XTC, Jellyfish and many others. Like most of the above (though not Badfinger, the other 'B'), Pugwash use tape-replay, although I've recently discovered that a lot of it's sampled, notably the whole of 2002's stupendous Almanac.
Ignoring 2003's Earworm, a compilation from Pugwash's first two albums, it was three years before Walsh produced his first album with any genuine 'Tron, 2005's Jollity. What can I say? More of the same: more gorgeous '60s-influenced material, more beautiful vintage keyboards, more melodies to die for. Opener It's Nice To Be Nice is the Beach Boys, complete with patented piano and banjo (!) parts - I kept expecting to hear Carl's high harmony line coming through. The rest of the album carries on in a similar vein, though mostly less overtly any one particular band; as I said, more of that Almanac stuff. Gorgeous.
As for the album's Mellotronic input, we get just the one real one; Walsh has managed a real coup by getting Dave Gregory (XTC/Dukes of Stratosphear) to play on a few tracks, including his own Mellotron on a couple - he's actually credited as 'The "Duke" of Mellotrons' on Lullaby #1, with a string part on Poles Together to boot. Another seven of the eleven tracks are stuffed with samples; mainly strings, plus flutes here and there (alongside real strings on A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds), and even brass and guitar 'tapes' on Anchor, most of the fakeotron played by Thomas Walsh and Duncan Maitland.
Three years on, and the pen of Thomas Walsh has written enough beautiful three-minute vignettes for another album. Eleven Modern Antiquities is every bit as good as you'd hope, with an even heavier XTC influence this time, although when you consider that Andy Partridge co-writes two songs, playing on one of them, that's hardly surprising. The most XTC-alike, Here, isn't one of his, either. I think it's the vocal melodies; Walsh seems to drop to the major seventh a lot (please excuse the technicality), in true late-period Partridge style. As with any album, there are stronger and weaker tracks here, although 'weaker' is a rather relative term, as nothing here makes you wish it hadn't been written, which is more than you can say for most singer-songwriter efforts.
The most real Mellotron on a Pugwash album yet; actually, I believe it's the same Novatron that was sampled for Almanac, now bought by Walsh; in fact, he seems to've credited it as 'Novatron' when it's real and 'Mellotron' when it isn't, which is handy. Anyway, it's on four songs out of the eleven; mostly strings, mostly played by Walsh, although Partridge plays (real?) 'Tron brass on his circus-like co-write At The Sea, along with acoustic guitar, kazoo and Swanee whistle (!). All in all, another triumph, Mr. Walsh. Now, how can we get more people to buy your wondrous records?
Anyway, if you listen to the above-named bands, or even if you don't, I really can't recommend all of these highly enough, to be honest; it's not every day that albums of this quality come along. Buy.
See: Samples | XTC | Duncan Maitland
Different Class (1995, 52.06) ****/½
Live Bed Show
Sorted for E's & Wizz
This is Hardcore (1998, 69.57) ****/TT
Help the Aged
This is Hardcore
A Little Soul
I'm a Man
The Day After the Revolution
We Love Life (2001, 54.02) ****/T
Weeds II (the Origin of the Species)
The Night That Minnie Timperley Died
I Love Life
The Birds in Your Garden
Bob Lind (the Only Way is Down)
|Bad Cover Version
Sheffield-based Pulp had been around for a good ten years before they finally broke through, proving that sometimes persistence does pay off. With geeky but charismatic frontman Jarvis Cocker leading from the front, the excellent Different Class showed the rest of the so-called Britpop movement how it should be done, combining the band's '60s influences with a modern sensibility to superb effect, particularly on deserved smash Common People, a Cocker rumination on class difference, written from (bitter) experience. It has to be mentioned at this point that Jarvis is the best lyricist Britain has coughed up in the last decade or two, with his pointed observations on what it means to come from a working-class northern town; ironic, given the band's (eventual) considerable success, but it's impossible to hold that against the band, given their continued excellence, especially in the face of their less-talented contemporaries. You know who they are.
Different Class is the only one of these three albums to specifically credit the Mellotron (played by Jarvis, along with a raft of other eclectic vintage gear), but the sound is such a mélange that it's rather difficult to pick out exactly where the 'Tron might have been used. It sounds like an ascending string line on driving opener Mis-Shapes and some backing chords on Live Bed Show, but it's really quite hard to tell. The album's strengths, though, aren't anything to do with its Mellotron content, but the incredible strength of the songwriting; Common People, Sorted For E's And Wizz, Mis-Shapes and F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. are all abiding classics, holding up just as well six years and another two albums later.
This is Hardcore was a fine, if slightly belated follow-up, opening with one of the darkest songs to have been written by a so-called 'pop group' well, ever, really; The deep melancholy of The Fear sums up single life with a quite devastating accuracy, as against the laddish idiocy of many of their peers - "The sound of loneliness turned up to ten" indeed. With no Mellotron credited and a similar mixture of sounds to its predecessor, I'm rather guessing here as to which tracks (if any) contain the mighty 'Tron, especially given the string section on four tracks. I'm certain the pitchbends on the excellent Help The Aged are Mellotron, and the chord work on TV Movie sounds like it should be, too. There's an interesting mix of potentially-Mellotronic sounds on I'm A Man, including what may very well be brass on the key-clicky intro; the cheesy overlaid strings are definitely (?!) 'Tron. Sylvia's strings may well be, but the choir chord at the end is another definite. The rather extreme length of the album, by the way, is mainly due to the ten or so minutes of unadulterated one-chord solo string synth at the end of The Day After The Revolution, punctuated only by Jarvis intoning 'Goodbye' somewhere in the middle. Odd.
It took Pulp three years to come up with We Love Life, and it was (mostly) worth the wait. Several new classics, including The Night That Minnie Timperley Died, The Birds In Your Garden and the excellent Sunrise, although like so many modern albums, they could probably have trimmed a couple of tracks along the way. I wouldn't absolutely swear blind that there's any Mellotron on the record, but it sounds like 'Tron strings and flutes on The Birds In Your Garden to me, so it's staying here until proven otherwise.
So; three great albums, in the '60s/'90s pop crossover Pulp have made their own. None of these are the greatest Mellotron albums ever, but you should own 'em all anyway.
See: Jarvis Cocker | Richard Hawley
The Strands of the Future (1976) ****½/TTTTThe Strands of the Future
Halloween (1977, 39.10) ****½/TTTHalloween Song
Colours of Childhood
Sorrow in My Dreams
Dawn Over Darkness
Misty Garden of Passion
Fear of Frost
Pulsar were one of the best-known French progressives, actually having their first two albums released in the UK. Pollen (****) is pretty good, but its follow-up, The Strands of the Future is great, operating in the prog/space crossover area, complete with a side-long title suite; imagine symphonic prog with Hawkwind-style synths laid over the top, although they tone them down somewhat on side two. Jacques Roman's Mellotron use is pretty cool, too, with loads of strings and choir, plus Roland Richard's Solina, with the different string sounds complementing each other rather well, each being used where it sounds best. For strings, listen to Flight and Fool's Failure, with choirs on all three noted tracks, particularly The Strands Of The Future itself. Fabulous stuff.
Album no.3, Halloween, drops all the odd synthy stuff, going straight for the jugular with an all-out concept symphonic prog classic; certainly one of the best of its kind ever to issue from France. My Musea LP only reproduces the original story in French, although I think the CD version translates it, so I can't actually work out what it's about, but the music's fantastic, so I'm really not that bothered. After the odd 80-second Halloween Song, they launch straight into the killer Tired Answers, with a lengthy 'Tron flute piece, before one of the best Mellotron string parts, well, ever, to be honest. Unbeatable. Sadly, the rest of the album is largely 'Tron-free, although there's a few seconds of strings on Colours Of Childhood, and I still can't decide whether it's 'Tron or not on Dawn Over Darkness, so I've given it the benefit of the doubt.
So; great band, great Mellotron, although I don't believe anything they did after Halloween is really worth the effort. The wonderful Musea people have reissued their entire back catalogue, so these should both be easily available from the usual sources.
Purplene (2004, 41.31) **/½Love: Western
Scars for Sores
Watch the Watch
Going by their eponymous 2004 album (their second and last), Australia's Purplene played a kind of post-rockist indie, loved by some, not least a gushing critic in Rolling Stone. Why? A track or two of this stuff is OK, but eight tracks in forty-odd minutes is at least five tracks too many, its lack of energy coming across not so much as gentle or moody, but lethargic. The guitars manage the occasional slightly angular section (Scars For Sores) or thoughtful arpeggiated part (Second Shift), but nowhere near enough to relieve the tedium.
Dave Ledlin plays Mellotron, with a repeating background flute melody on The Battler that sounds like it might actually have emanated from a real machine, which makes a nice change. Overall, then, Purplene features the occasional reasonable track weighed down by the mediocrity of the rest, with very little Mellotron. Maybe not.
Pussy Plays (1969, 35.53) ***½/½Come Back June
All of My Life
We Built the Sun
Tragedy in F Minor
The Open Ground
Pussy are yet another 'can't say I know a lot about them' band, especially since the demise of the online Borderline Books site (grrr). What I can tell you is that Pussy Plays is a rather good late-period psych album, almost crossing over into prog in places; the only comparison I can come up with (and it isn't that close) is early Yes in their Peter Banks/Tony Kaye first album phase, although the vocals are (unsurprisingly) far more mainstream. Hints of early Floyd, too, though these really are only the vaguest of pointers. Not a bad track on the album, with Comets being the most oft-quoted fave, with its bonkers Theremin work, leading one to opine, "Why didn't they make it?". Who knows? There are always dozens of factors in a band's success or otherwise, musical quality usually coming fairly low on the list.
On the Mellotron front, ignore any overenthusiastic reviewers who use phrases such as 'Mellotron-soaked' or similar; Tragedy In F Minor features some very upfront MkII 'Tron saxes at the beginning and end of the song, key-click and all, but that is absolutely your lot. So; an unfairly obscure album from a fascinating period, well worth hearing, but, despite its good use of an unusual sound, not a Mellotron Album in any way.
The Gathering of the Krums (1998, 42.11) ****/TTTTTInvitation
Pitch the Wort
Depth of Time
Pye Fyte are a rather odd proposition; extremely retro-prog from the States, with more than a nod towards late-'60s psychedelia, with none of the more contemporary influences of most current US outfits. Despite only being available on CD, The Gathering of the Krums is LP-length, and I wouldn't mind betting it wasn't just because the band only had 42 minutes'-worth of material. The songs are excellent, too, so don't think this is just some exercise in 'retro for the sake of it'. Most of the tracks are relatively short, leaving the album's two closers, Fields and Depth Of Time clocking up well over 20 minutes between them, allowing the band to stretch out compositionally, particularly with the repeated phrase that closes the record.
John McNamara's Mellotron work is extensive and excellent; every track is soaked in the thing, right at the front of the mix, even above the vocals at points. The bulk of the use is the ubiquitous strings, but flute melodies crop up here and there (particularly on Fields), and opener Invitation is loaded with choir. I can hear the odd bit of modern synth/sample-playback here and there, but against the Mellotronic onslaught, they don't stand a chance. Plenty of 'solo spots' ensure that this is one of the most full-on modern 'Tron recordings around. Quite superb.
The Gathering of the Krums is another of those 'because we can!' albums, akin to Norwegians The Smell of Incense's Through the Gates of Deeper Slumber, where the Mellotron use is completely gratuitous and all the better for it. Buy.
Pyramid (1976/1996?, 33.13) ***½/TT½Dawn Defender
The Pyramid album is one of three concurrent re-releases from the British Psi-Fi label, all apparently originally released in tiny numbers on the German Pyramid label in the mid-'70s. It has been suggested by one or two spoilsports that they are '90s fakes, but this one sounds far too authentic for that; what is possible is that it was recorded by stoned session men on their day off, supposedly in 1975/76, with the band name tacked on later. It's basically a half-hour jam, played by musicians who knew what they were doing, ebbing and flowing in all the right places. Tension and release, I believe it's called...
It sounds like two guitarists, bass, drums and keys, including our beloved Mellotron, which drifts in and out of the album's single track in best space-rock style. There's a short choir section at around five minutes, then some strings at ten, more choirs at 18 etc., with a particularly nice (and decidedly authentic) string part starting at around the half-hour mark, lasting until the end of the piece. This is yer typical stoned, trippy sort of mid-'70s stuff, but it's pretty good at it, and the Mellotron work is nice, if slightly sparse. Recommended for all spaceheads.
Journey to the Vast Unknown (1980 (81?), 41.54) ***/TJourney to the Vast Unknown
In to the in
When it Comes
After the Silence (1981, 40.47) ***½/TTTT
|After the Silence I
1st Movement: Introduction
Opus I: Diabolus in Musica
Opus II: Étude for Flying V
Opus III: Scherzo
3rd Movement: Endless Hymn
After the Silence II
Opus I: Turn
Opus II: Return
Opus I: Caprice
Opus II: Interludium
Opus III: Reprice
6th Movement: Scherzo Reprice
7th Movement: Grand Finale
Pythagoras were apparently formed when a young synthesizer nut, René de Haan, impressed record shop owner and professional drummer Bob de Jong enough for the duo to record a couple of albums together. 1980 (or '81)'s rather primitive Journey to the Vast Unknown is a rather ordinary, pretty typical synth release, albeit with the addition of de Jong's drums, most of de Haan's synths sounding as cheap as they were. The material's far more melodic (and clearly highly arranged) than many similar, but it's all a bit ponderous, lulling the listener to sleep after a while, making him miss de Haan's distant Mellotron choirs on side two's In To The In and When It Comes, not that they add that much to the album.
Their second (and last) release, '82's After the Silence (featuring several guest players), was a rather better effort, being more instrumental symphonic prog than EM as such, although there are too many moments of 'let's just let this one drift for a few minutes, shall we?' for it to be any real sort of classic. Saying that, it has several sublime moments, not least (and I'm guessing here) 5th Movement Opus II, where a string synth provides the fast string part, the Mellotron the chords, with the whole thing underpinned by future Ayreon supremo Arjen Lucassen's Taurus pedals. Nice.
De Haan's Mellotron isn't actually overused, with much of side one being 'Tron-free; much of his use is rather murky choirs, although the strings appear here and there. Plackband's Michel van Wassem guests on Novatron on 4th Movement Opus I, which may or may not explain the sustained choir chord (easily played on two 'Trons), although the effect is relatively easy to produce using one M400 loaded with 8-choir. Essentially, although what appears to be the album's longest track, side one's 3rd Movement: Endless Hymn is fairly 'Tron-heavy, it's side two's After The Silence II where you'll find most of the 'Tron action.
Anyway, while these aren't the greatest albums you'll ever hear (particularly their debut), being rather short on ideas in places, they're not at all bad, and the second features some great Mellotron work, not to mention bass pedals so high in the mix that they almost drown everything else out. Don't pay a fortune, but don't turn your nose up either.