OK, so after being encouraged by several members of this forum (AlexMontrose in particular, but one or two others as well) I decided to re-explore the PT catalogue, listening to all of their albums in chronological order, including those I had not heard (just for the record, the ones I had heard up to this point had been "Up The Downstair", "The Sky Moves Sideways", "Signify", "Deadwing", "Fear Of A Blank Planet" and "The Incident"). I have now heard (or re-heard, as the case may be) the first four albums through "Signify" and am ready to give my thoughts; most of these will be directed to AlexMontrose, but anyone can respond of course. And just for good measure, I listened to each album twice through headphones, just to make sure each one could sink in properly (although I realize some albums take more listens to digest).
First off, I need to reference the earlier debate I had with AlexMontrose regarding the "importance" of the group to rock history. That debate was for that particular thread, which was voting on the 100 most important rock albums of all time. I did not think PT were especially important in the overall flow and development of rock history; AlexMontrose disagreed. However, I stressed at the time and I stress now that my view of the group's "importance" (read "influence", "mass commercial impact" and "breaking new genre ground"--I think the group have had some minor impact in all of those areas, but not to nearly the same degree as Alex) is very different from my thoughts on the group's overall musical quality. I was already a fan of the group--not a rabid one, but I do think they're one of the top fifteen best outfits of the last twenty years, and that's just from the albums I had heard up until then. A group doesn't have to be 'important' at all to the evolution and development of rock, to be able to craft five-star albums.
With that out of the way, I was going to review the albums track-by-track but now realize that will make my longwinded posts that much longer, so I'll try and suffice with detailed but succinct summaries of each album I've heard so far.
ON THE SUNDAY OF LIFE (1991): Of all the PT albums I knew this one would be the most derivative, since I'd heard it was comprised of material that Wilson had recorded under the jokey guise that it was some legendary late 60s/early 70s psychedelic/space-rock outfit. However, I must also mention that psychedelia is my favorite musical genre, and I welcome anyone who attempts to reach back to the creativity and trippiness of that era (again, the 'derivativeness' doesn't really count as a negative in my assessment of quality, unless it's a soulless carbon copy) . The era is harder to *reliably* replicate than one might imagine, though, so there are pitfalls galore in any such attempt.
The verdict? I must say, I was extraordinarily delighted to find that I loved "On The Sunday Of Life". Wilson takes equally from late 60s UK psych-pop (Barrett-era Floyd, Tomorrow, Traffic etc) and early 70s progressive/space-rock (mid-period Floyd, Gong) along with the spaciest Canterbury prog elements (Caravan, Egg) to create music that is right up my alley. The genre re-creations are so masterful, one might actually be tempted to believe some of it actually came from the period. The highlights are thick in number but I was especially impressed with the "Third Eye Surfer/On The Sunday Of Life/The Nostalgia Factory" bit, "Nine Cats", "And The Swallows Dance Above The Sun" and what I gather is a live favorite, "Radioactive Toy". This music is complex, trippy and totally faithful to the feel of the original era; parts of it even seem more proggy, complex and sonically adventurous than the more celebrated later albums. Best of all, it's not just the *sound* of the era he has down, but the quality of the songwriting is already very high (and that was something the original 60s/70s artists had in abundance, that tends to be missing from a lot of later re-creation attempts).
The only weaknesses I see here involve the length of the album, which at 75 minutes stays its welcome just a tad too long, and there's a few songs where Wilson adopts a high-pitched, twee mannerism to his voice that was common in some of the UK psych of the time, but which seems too self-consciously jokey and unnecessary here. Otherwise, though, I was highly impressed and the second listen only improved on the first. This is one of the best exercises in genre-copying I've ever heard (easily outstripping otherwise-notable 80s retro-psych acts like Plasticland and The Dukes Of Stratosphear), and the genres he chose to replicate just happen to be my favorite so...at the moment I give it an A- rating.
Ok this post is already getting too long, so I'll break up the reviews to one post per album. "Up The Downstair/Staircase Infinities" is next!
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