Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz
S.F Sorrow is a great album, you guys should check it out if you haven’t! But maybe you shouldn’t take my advice, because even after ascertaining I enjoyed S.F Sorrow a lot I neglected to listen to anything else by The Pretty Things, I guess because whenever I felt tempted to listen to them I just put S.F Sorrow on. I kinda assumed the rest would be boring hard rock, and listening to Parachute I realise that was a mistake.
So, this album came out after Sorrow and is similar in its ambition. It’s divided into two sides, and each one is different! Ambition! The first side is a suite comprising of short pop songs, and the second is longer bluesier material. I guess they heard Abbey Road and thought they could do the same but in reverse. Like Abbey Road the album doesn’t feel incohesive at all, because of the aesthetic of the The Pretty Things. The band show their presumably hard rock roots (I haven’t heard their earlier stuff and because I was assigned the album that comes straight after Sorrow I still don’t have to!) in having a really gruff, almost proto lo-fi sound. There’s also the psychedelia of it, though it’s much closer to being the psychedelia of Jim Morrison than the psychedelia of Syd Barrett, or perhaps a dialectic of both. It’s like a rainstorm on a marijuana farm. But true to the marijuana, the album can sound tender and tuneful as well, and whilst the album does have a pretty similar sound, this aspect keeps it from ever getting boring. Unless you’re just not into the album, in which case the whole thing will sound boring, or worse, intolerable!
The band has a great sound to back this aesthetic up. The bassist is capable of some real heavy stuff, Phil May can go from a pretty falsetto to a bluesy whine, the guitarist isn’t incredibly innovative or original, but he has memorable riffs and a tasty tone. There’s drumming and keyboards as well, but those are more augments than the core sound, so fuck describing them! They’re competent! In aggregate it all mixes up to create a pleasurable style, not obnoxiously boorish or macho, though not exactly seeping depth either.
Though speaking of depth, the album does open somewhat pretentiously with a song titled “Scene One”. It’s just the title though, the actual song is a tense number guided by a rumbling bass and staccato blasts of guitars (maybe even horns, i don’t really know), with urgent harmony vocals and a bluesy, wiry guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place on More Songs about Buildings and Food. It gives the impression of a late paper boy paddling their bike down a steep hill; cartoon drama. “The Good Mr. Square” follows and relieves the tension, being a childish psych-pop song with Phil maybe doing a goofy impression of a soul singer, accompanied by a pleasant acoustic guitar shuffle and catchy, amiable bass guitar, with psychedelic harmony vocals and an ornate horn! “She Was Tall, She Was High” follows right after and is just tremendously catchy, Phil and his backup joyously singing the title of the song in a beatlesque fashion with guitars imitating sitars and a punchy, blues-pop riff, a horn again, though more playful this time. The song has a sort of tenseness underpinning it which makes it seem deeper than I imagine it is, maybe it’s the middle eight or whatever. “In The Square” contrasts this. It’s a melancholic tune containing byrdsy harmony vocals and a stately, clean electric guitar line, with a mourning sitar coming in, sounding kinda bluesy. The song feels like it should have a harpsichord but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. “The Letter” is a cheery sounding song with a keyboard line which sounds like a flute, or like it could appear in a children’s show from the 60s. The guitar line is crunchy and catchy, with fun drumming as well and plaintive yet cocky vocals. Rain is a gripping blues rocker with well ace, catchy background vocals and passionate guitar playing. The song builds up to this though, showing it as the conclusion of the suite. There’s even clapping at the end!
So, that’s the suite, it captures a lot of moods and presumably has a story line, though i didn’t pay attention to the lyrics. It’s a definite highlight of the album. The songs are catchy and stand out individually, though they’re all pretty short.
“Miss Fay Regrets” opens up the second side, which is just songs, and it’s one of the lesser ones. But man, the song that comes after, it’s my favourite on the album! It’s called “Cries From The Midnight Circus” and it’s a nervous as fuck blues rocker with a positively malevolent vibe. It has a creepy bassline running throughout the whole thing which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Black Sabbath song. Phil May sounds like John Lennon on Plastic Ono Band, but better! (take that Lennon fanboys). The guitar increases in intensity throughout the song, till its squealing passionately like a drunk opera singer delivering their finest performance. The song has little details as well adding to its majesty, like the shaking percussion, subtle harmonica, swaggering bar piano and a really spacey, throbbing synth part (?) near the beginning of the song. There’s also that vocal style where it sounds like it’ been put under water like, to make the second sabbath comparison, on Planet Caravan. It’s bluesy and almost jazzy, with a really fantastic melody to boot, what a song!
“Sickle Clowns” is another six minute song, but it’s pretty similar to Midnight Circus, maybe a bit poppier. Still a lot of fun, just not as impressive or memorable. No, what really rules is “Grass”, a melancholic blueser with gruff yet pretty vocals and a guitar line which is almost funky. There’s an exaggerated tragedy to the chorus, Phil is obviously putting on a performance, but the depressive solo which follows adds a bit of genuine emotion, like a lone car on a dark highway in a highly urban city. “She’s a Lover” is a neat song as well, with nice almost falsetto vocals and an aggressive acoustic guitar riff going throughout. “What’s The Use” is a short song which sounds almost ambient with its Asianic piano playing. Then the psychedelia soaked guitars and singing come in and make it sound a bit more normal for the album, with the chorus being kind of clunky and unmelodic actually. Not particularly to my liking, perhaps a leftover from the side one suite. “Parachute” is a beatlesy piece of bluesy melancholia with vocals that sound like they could have came from a dejected barbershop quartet. It’s a fine way to end the album, with the middle of the song getting almost majestic with -finally- a harpsichord (or harpsichord like instrument) and soaring guitar.
So, hopefully I’ve made this album sound interesting and it’s definitely worth checking out, so go ahead and do it! Remember, reviews are basically just glorified advertisements so don’t just read this, listen to the damned album!