Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: Expanded Editions of The Mascots' 'Your Mascots' and 'Ellpee'

Garage rock aficionados know The Mascots because of “Words Enough to Tell You”, a romantic jangler that earned a spot on Rhino’s Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond box set. Aside from that one track, they’re pretty obscure outside of Sweden, apparently because they weren’t too concerned about international success. At home, they were considered a Scandinavian Beatles, though The Zombies seemed to have had an equally heavy influence on the band. Their debut album, Your Mascots, blended the Fabs’ buoyancy with The Zombies’ sullenness for a sound a lot like the early Beau Brummels. They were actually darker than any of those groups. Even Lennon hadn’t written anything as nasty as “I hope that this is forever goodbye / I hope that you forever will die” (“Goodbye”) at this point in his career (though he would pretty soon with “Run for Your Life”) and Harrison never sounded as dour as The Mascots do on the pitch-black “For Him”. On a version of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” sung with the blinding speed of the guy from the Micro Machines commercials, The Mascots just sound crazy. All of this makes for one of the most interesting pseudo-Mersey Beat records of 1965.

The following year, The Mascots released their most enduring hit (which they released on flexi disc with a popular magazine after winning a contest!) and their second and final album. Elpee is even better than Your Mascots, kind of a distillation of everything that was awesome about mid-sixties pop. Along with the old Beatles/Zombies influence are chunks of The Who (the record’s most pervasive touchstone), Yardbirds (the killer single “I Want to Live”), Unit 4 Plus 2 (“Droopy Drops”), Dylan by way of The Kinks (“This Proud Crowd”), Kinks by way of The Kinks (Nobody Crying), and The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Things Are Turning Out”). This is a heavier, noisier, more eclectic outing than the first one, and The Mascots deliver pretty consistently great original material (the poorly sung and only mildly amusing “I Don’t Like You” is the odd exception).

The Mascots’ story on 45 was a different story at this point. Their Zombies (“Woman”), Who (“So Sad About Us”), Peter, Paul, and Mary (“Stewball”), Paul Revere and the Raiders (“Moreen”), and Dylan (“You Ain’t Going Nowhere”) covers were all well done and never lazy copies of the originals, but such over-reliance on others’ material revealed a definite creative fatigue. The original “Baby, You’re So Wrong” was a rare standout in those later years.

Nevertheless, The Mascots made a lot of great recordings, so they’re definitely due a more thorough overview than one song on a various artists box set. RPM International Records is giving them that now with expanded editions of Your Mascots and Ellpee, both being released outside of Sweden for the very first time. Both discs (Ellpee is a double) come with all of those single sides great (“Words Enough to Tell You”; “I Like My Bike”, a 1964 A-side that presaged acid-era whimsy) and not so great (“Lessen”, a terrifying ball of corn that indicates what the band might have sounded like had they never discovered British bands; Mason Williams’s pedestrian folk “If I Had a Ship”, here in English and Swedish). Fortunately, the good way outweighs the bad, and power pop freaks will find a ton to dig on Your Mascots and Ellpee. Get them on Amazon.com here:
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