Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: ‘Heaven Is in Your Mind’ (mono edition) by Traffic

The release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967 ushered in an era of Rock-album-as-art and brought an end to the one in which British L.P.s were hacked to pieces in the U.S. for purely commercial reasons. Oddly, an exception in this new era was one of its most genuinely artful records, and its pond-crossing alterations were some of the most convoluted. In the U.K., Traffic’s debut was titled Mr. Fantasy, contained no tracks previously released as singles, and favored several solo compositions by guitarist Dave Mason. In the U.S., Heaven Is In Your Mind lost two Mason tracks, both examples of his delightfully naïve and exotic psychedelic pop, and gained the singles “Paper Sun” and “Hole in My Shoe”, as well as “We’re a Fade, You Missed This”. The latter track is a clear attempt to give the U.S. album a sort of Pepper-esque reprise as it is a brief sample of the extended fade from an alternate version of “Paper Sun”. The almost subliminal snatches of the single “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” used to link most of the tracks are also used for conceptual unity. In other words, Mr. Fantasy was butchered in the States for reasons both commercial and artistic. To muddle the story further, the title of the American L.P. was soon changed to Mr. Fantasy, yet the altered track listing remained.

Monkeying with U.K. albums for the U.S. market will always be a controversial practice. For the most part, Americans received inferior products. In some odd cases, they received albums arguably stronger than their purer British counterparts (Rubber Soul, perhaps? The Rolling Stones Now! vs. Rolling Stones No. 2, maybe?). Mr. Fantasy vs. Heaven Is In Your Mind is a bit of a case of “six of one/half dozen of another.” Heaven Is In Your Mind may have trumped Mr. Fantasy had it lost some of its less spectacular tracks, such as the jazzy jam “Giving to You”, but the Mason tracks lopped off it are basically as strong as the two singles included. There’s a specific reason Mason’s tracks were the ones that were sacrificed, though; he’d left the band since its creation, hence his absence from the cover of the U.S. album.

So what Americans were left with was a drastically changed album (the running order was juggled too) that may have been more in tune with the post-Pepper era than the band intended it to be. An odd duck indeed. Questions of purity aside, Heaven is In Your Minds is an excellent product of its time with all the idioms represented. Acoustic psychedelia? Check. Baroque folk? Check. Sweeping psych anthems? Check. Raga rock? Check. Mellotrons and harpsichords and noodling woodwinds and whimsical narration and sitars and the aforementioned reprise and jazz and music hall gestures? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check, and check. There’s also Steve Winwood’s stunning soul wail to tether the sundry celestial debris to the Earth. Lovely stuff.

Sundazed Records has just re-released this American oddity in its even odder mono mix. Sourced from the original masters and remastered with the sensitivity we’ve come to expect from the label, Traffic’s stateside debut sounds better than ever. Get it from Amazon.com here:

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