Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: 'Ultimate Spinach" Mono Vinyl Edition


The term “Bosstown Sound” was DJ Dick Summer’s valiant yet failed attempt to promote Boston as the next San Francisco in the late sixties. At the forefront of the movement was Ultimate Spinach, a psychedelic conglomerate led by an acid muncher named Ian Bruce-Douglas and supported by a bunch of squares. Though the group is only known by the most hardcore psych acolytes today, and they never even tried to score a hit single, Ultimate Spinach’s eponymous debut album did surprisingly well, even climbing to #34 in the LP charts, and is remembered fondly by a dedicated few.
Hearing Ultimate Spinach today, it is definitely dated, but if you’re going to be dated to a particular date, 1968 is pretty great date to be dated to. Much of Ultimate Spinach is charming in the way that may provoke a kitschy chuckle but it is capable of sincerely earning a gasp or two as well. The druggy imagery and ham-fisted social commentary is pretty hard to take seriously, but things like the chugging “Ego Trip” and the bopping, harpsichord jangling “Plastic Raincoat/Hung Up Minds” are still effectively evocative of a grand era.
Bruce-Douglas has major issues with his first album because of its “mid-rangey, bubblegum” production, and he is not wrong that the Ultimate Spinach lacks Popeyes punch. However, it is the more bubblegum moments that hold up best. When the aim is progressiveness, things get tedious. The album’s most legendary track, the eight-minute-plus “Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess”, is a totally listless jam, though Barbara Jean Hudson’s vocals, which recall Dorothy Moskowitz’s ultra-cool work with The United States of America, are preferable to Bruce-Douglas’s less polished voice. His subpar pipes are specifically responsible for torpedoing the otherwise intense “Your Head is Reeling”. Yet, there are times when everything comes together beautifully, as they do on the final track, and “Pamela” has the most exquisite keyboard breaks this side of “She’s a Rainbow”.
Sundazed’s new vinyl edition of Ultimate Spinach doesn’t do much to add much-needed bottom to the production, but it at least makes a serious effort with a mono presentation. The leafy green marbled vinyl is a neat gimmick too.
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