Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: The End's 'From Beginning to End...'


Like most of the Stones (and their fans and their critics), Bill Wyman never had much nice to say about his band’s psychedelic period, yet the archetypal rhythm and blues bassist enjoyed his most distinguished role during the acid era. That was when he wrote and sang his only composition to be included on a Rolling Stones album and released as a single in the U.S. and masterminded the delightfully trippy LP Introspection by UK combo The End.

Unlike Their Satanic Majesties Request, a bizarre record that tends to get lambasted because it strayed so far from the Stones’ usual rock and blues formula (though not by your adoring writer, which should already be known by regular Psychobabble readers), Introspection is a highly approachable album with tight pop structures, big hooks, and sweet harmonies. Like Satanic, it is a splendid showcase for the magical Mellotron.  Unfortunately, noncommittal management kept this record so perfectly tuned into psychedelia’s too brief reign from being released until 1969. During that year, when getting “back to the roots” was rock’s chief cry (aided and abetted by the Stones’ own Beggars Banquet), Introspection surely sounded out-of-touch and flopped, but to my psychedelia-leaning ears, it knocks out a lot of the classics of that era. Personally, I prefer to spin enchanting tracks like “Cardboard Watch”, “What Does It Feel Like?”, “Shades of Orange”, and “Under the Rainbow” to admittedly great LPs like Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, and Five Leaves Left, and that’s saying a hell of a lot.

However, The End’s career did not begin and end with Introspection, nor did their work with Wyman. Despite my adoration of that album, I’ve never dived into anything else the band did, though I don’t feel like I deserve too much blame for that since that material was only released on three out-of-print LPs by Tenth Planet Records in the nineties. Edsel Record’s new From Beginning to End… collects those three albums on CD for the first time along with Introspection and its bonus single mixes of “Loving Sacred Loving” and “Shades of Orange”. There’s In the Beginning…, a collection of early singles and outtakes, Retrospection, a comp of Introspection outtakes, and The Last Word, which was intended to be The End’s final album before they morphed into the heavier Tucky Buzzard in the seventies.

While none of these discs are as successful as Introspection, they each reveal something interesting about the band. In the Beginning… finds The End trying out various approaches in search of a sound: Unit 4 + 2-style mainstream pop, bubblegum soul, and more driving rock-soul in the Who/Small Faces mode. Not surprisingly, the latter approach is the best, though Wyman even produces the cheesier tracks with the wall-of-noise overdrive of a Shel Talmy record. The use of saxophone and the surprising number of original compositions shows that The End were determined to stand out.

A more consistent listen is Retrospection, though it’s clear why a lot of these songs didn’t make the cut. Too many sound too much like other tracks already on Introspection, while poor vocals torpedo a nice Procol Harum-esque tune called “Tears Will Be the Only Answer”. An attempt to turn Los Bravos’ “Black Is Black” into an acid rock dirge is a failure, but “Mister Man” is really good, and would have been a preferable replacement for the cornball version of Larry Williams’s “She Said Yeah” that is the only total misfire on Introspection. This disc also includes four bonus tracks that weren’t on the Tenth Planet record. They are mostly slight, though the lyrically stunted but spectacularly titled “Stones in My Banana” prevails with ass-shaking rhythm and mind-melting feedback.

The Last Word finds The End transitioning from the cuddly pop-psych of Introspection toward the grander seventies rock of Tucky Buzzard with much more purpose than they displayed on that sub-Vanilla Fudge version of “Black Is Black”. The material is very good, if not quite on the Introspection level. Though the generic instrumental “Smarty Pants” is disposable, there are no “She Said Yeah” style embarrassments. It’s a shame this stuff had to sit in the vaults for 25 years plus another 20 before reaching a audience beyond Ugly Things-reading vinyl cultists, but I guess the fact that it’s all available now on From Beginning to End… takes care of that.
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