Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: The Creation's 'Action Painting'

They never managed to get a hit like a lot of the other bands that Shel Talmy produced, but some rock cultists— such as Talmy— insist that The Creation was every bit as good as The Kinks and The Who. You have to take a lot of what Talmy says with a Rock of Gibraltar-size grain of salt, but in this case, there’s some truth to his assertion. With mighty, colorful, crazy records such as “Making Time”, “Nightmares”, and “How Does It Feel to Feel”, The Creation easily made records as good as the ’66-era Kinks and Who.

Consequently, The Creation have been anthologized a few times, though the most thorough collections are kind of a mess. I’m specifically referring to Retroactive’s 1998 comps Making Time (Volume One) and Biff Bang Pow! (Volume Two). Both discs are loaded with great music, for sure, but they’re programmed in a nearly unlistenable manner. Different mixes of the same songs are sprinkled about in such a way that the listening experience becomes vexingly repetitive. 

Numero Group’s new collection Action Painting solves this problem with more considerate programming. All of the original mono mixes are gathered on Disc One with only one repeated song: “How Does It Feel to Feel” appears in both its original UK version and its superior US remake, which is tacked onto the end of the disc long after the other version has played. Disc Two begins with four decent cuts by The Creation’s initial incarnation as The Mark Four before moving on to new, Talmy-approved stereo mixes of most of the songs on disc one.

This approach is much more listenable than Retroactive’s, even though I would have given that buzzsaw US version of “How Does It Feel to Feel” pride of place early in the disc and arranged the tracks according to when they were recorded rather than when they were released so that “I Am the Walker” and “Ostrich Man”—two of The Creation’s finest—aren’t buried so far at the end of the disc. But these are minor quibbles. Really, Disc One of Action Painting is superb and basically all The Creation you’ll ever need to hear with nice, thick remastering by Talmy and Reuben Cohen.

The stereo mixes on Disc Two are more of a curiosity, though they do reveal some interesting, heretofore-buried sounds, such as some keening backing vocals on “How Does It Feel to Feel” and Through My Eyes”. The tracks are allowed to play out completely without fades, which discloses interesting tidbits too. “Through My Eyes” has certainly never sounded more psychedelically demented than it does here.  Disc Two is also the only spot where The Creation’s covers of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Hey Joe” appear on Action Painting, but these are fairly inessential tracks and you’ll never miss them if you decide to only keep Disc One in rotation. I certainly don’t miss having them in mono.

The hardback book/slipcase packaging is very attractive with a bevy of color photos, including repros of all The Creation’s picture sleeves , as well as some informative biographical and track-by-track essays. The too-tight pockets for the CDs could have been thought out a lot better, though. Nevertheless, Action Painting is a lovely package of some of the sixties’ most brutal music. It may even be definitive.
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