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A Mess for a C Minus
on January 17, 2005
According to several sources (including the band themselves, by way of interviews posted on a couple of Websites dedicated to them), David Axelrod--who composed "Mass in F Minor" as an experiment in transposing elements of the Catholic mass to psychedlic-era rock and pop; and, who was said to have had help enough (mostly from the band's producer, Dave Hassenger, and manager, Lenny Poncher) in jamming it down the band's throat--didn't entirely replace the original Electric Prunes for the album. The band's drummer and lead guitarist, Quint and Mark Tulin (responsible for the band's trademark feedback effects and co-writer of their original material, whenever they were allowed to record any), played on all six original tracks. Lead singer James Lowe did all the lead singing. The full original quintet played on the first three tracks, "Kyrie Eleison" (yes, the one Peter Fonda couldn't resist using for the soundtrack to "Easy Rider"), "Gloria," and "Credo" (originally, side one of the set); for the remaining selections, the three remaining Prunes were augmented by a Canadian group, the Collectors, later known somewhat better as Chilliwack; and, by guitar-friendly engineer Richie Podolor (perhaps remembered best for work with Steppenwolf) adding some guitar work.
Given their ambivalence about the project to begin with, the original Prunes acquit themselves well enough on those first three cuts, the best of which--"Gloria"--leaves the impression of a cleaned-up version of the original Big Brother and the Holding Company taking catechism classes on the sneak. Otherwise, Axelrod's attempt to yank the traditional music extants tied to Catholicism into a psychedelic brew seem awkward when thrust into very reluctant hand (well, the remaining hands), given the Prunes' apparent tiring of being guinea pigs for someone else's ideas and oversight.
(The Prunes actually gave a "Mass in F Minor" concert--the original band got hit with that assignment fresh off a tour and was allowed no time to rehearse properly, not a terribly bright idea considering the full band knew three of the numbers at best. The concert was an apparent disaster and the original Prunes began to dissipate, with Hassenger and Poncher apparently bringing in anyone they pleased to be the Prunes and milk the name--which still had some cred thanks to their original hit singles, "I Had Too Much To Dream" and "Get Me To The World On Time." By the time the Electric Prunes, what passed for them, actually did break up, none of the original members had been there for over a year or two.)
As a concept, "Mass in F Minor" wasn't a terrible idea; there was nothing exactly wrong with trying to adapt portions of the Catholic mass to the era's rock and pop styles (this would be done pretty liberally in the years to come), and in toto you could do worse than what the actual or alleged Electric Prunes were forced to do with "Mass in F Minor." (Come to think of it, British heavies Spooky Tooth, at around the same time or within a year, with "Ceremony"--in fairness, they signed on to be the backing group for its creator, electronics experimenter Pierre Henry; they didn't necessarily expect it to be issued as a Spooky Tooth album--actually did do worse. ) But "Mass in F Minor" (and its Electric Prunes-in-name-only followup, "Release of an Oath/The Kol Nidre"; Axelrod at least was willing to give Judaism an equal opportunity for limpen deconstruction) has the sad enough legacy--in terms of both its inconsistent music and the burden of its having been forced upon a band, or what was left of it, which did not love it--of being a major part of why it is that critics and fans since have insisted that few of the original psychedelic bands deserve better than the Electric Prunes do.