Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: 'Another Splash of Colour: New Psychedelia in Britain 1980-1985'

Pop music is cyclical, which was never more explicit than in late seventies/early eighties Britain when punk returned rock to the simplicity of the fifties before a new Mod scene indebted to the early sixties emerged. These scenes naturally led to a return of mid-sixties trippiness, and the New Psychedelic scene was barely underway when WEA was already putting it into historical context with a compilation of its very own. The thirteen tracks on A Splash of Colour did a pretty good job of laying out the guidelines of UK New Psychedelia. American garage psych groups such as The 13th Floor Elevators and The Electric Prunes were as influential as homegrown fare by The Beatles (always “Tomorrow Never Knows”) or Syd Barret’s Pink Floyd (always “Lucifer Sam”). Though the influences and attitude were unapologetically retro, drum machines, synthesizers that don’t require an engineering degree to play, and other eighties tools and toys were welcome at the Love In. The anti-war, pro-understanding sentiments parroted Summer of Love ethos but also served as contemporary statements against Thatcher/Reagan-era bellicosity. Consequently, the music often doesn’t sound any more stuck in the past than the latest discs by The Cure or Siouxsie and the Banshees, two seemingly super-contemporary bands that drew on sixties influences deeply.

35 years later, Cherry Red’s RPM Records is revising and expanding A Splash of Colour with a triple-disc set called Another Splash of Colour. With the exception of two tracks by The Doctor, all of the tracks from the 1982 compilation are on this new box set, although the running order is mixed up, shuffling the 11 remaining tracks with 53 additional cuts basically in the Splash of Colour spirit. Some of the new artists are bigger names than the ones on WEA’s comp: Robyn Hitchcock with and without The Soft Boys, Captain Sensible, The Damned in the guise of Naz Nomad and the Nightmares, Julian Cope, The Television Personalities, The Monochrome Set, The Attractions (without Elvis), The Dentists. Those bands all turn in reliably excellent tracks, while lesser-known acts supply the excitement of discovery, particularly when they don’t follow psychedelic tropes so doggedly. Knox takes a rather obvious cover choice—Syd Barret’s “Gigolo Aunt” — and makes it truly exciting by shooting it up with punk aggression. Magic Mushroom Band’s “Wide Eyed and Electrick” is another thrilling punk/psych fusion. Some of the best tracks would have sounded perfectly at home on Cherry Red’s Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival box, namely Kimberley Rew’s “Stomping All Over the World” and Squire’s “No Time Tomorrow”. 

There are only a couple of outright skippable tracks — Charlie Harper’s novelty “Night of the Jackal” and Blue Orchid’s grating “Work”— though Another Splash of Colour is not quite back-to-back gems otherwise. At times, groups get a little too trapped in the tropes, as when The High Tides waste their time and yours with a longwinded, sloppy jam in the middle of “Electric Blue”, a remnant of the WEA compilation. Some of the new selections sound like they don’t quite fit, such as Scarlet Party’s “101 Dam-Nations”, which is a bit jangly but generally indistinguishable from any other piece of eighties pop. However, as Miles Over Matter shout on “Something’s Happening Here”, “Just because the love generation did it, doesn’t mean we have to.” The fact that the mass of tracks on Another Splash of Colour do not merely copy psychedelia’s original wave but update it for their own age gives them a personality of their very own and makes them sound strangely contemporary today.
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