Sunday, January 27, 2013
The psychedelic era has, up until recently, just meant to me early Pink Floyd. In college I was overexposed to The Wall and Wish You Were Here. It's good music; but not really indicative of the rich tapestry of the early waves of psychedelia. At the time I didn't know that. I thought watching Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side of the Moon was "psychedelic." I guess it is, but I am heartened to know that there is plentiful history that predates.
Spirit had never even been on my radar until one VVer, in the interest of buying random books from local bookstore Politics and Prose, and broadening her musical horizons, brought home "1000 Albums You Need to Hear Before You Die." While not exactly the definitive authority on musical quality, this tome has provided some interesting direction. In the pages of said paperweight exists a write up of Spirit's 1972 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus. Why the review piqued my curiosity is hard to say... it just looked strange.
So anyways, Sardonicus is a phenomenal album and it got me to keep an eye for other releases by Spirit. I have no idea where we came across this copy of Spirit's debut; it's been sitting in our collection for the past few years with nary a play. We liked it from the outset, but for some reason it sat mostly unspun. Not sure why. Perhaps it was the odd sleeve cover? The collage of the mostly goofy looking members made goofier by their assemblage (it totally reminds me of the Feistadon cover mentioned in our 2012 year in review) and being almost life size staring right at you, is off-putting to say the least. Get out of here you damn hippies! Seriously though it's goofy and playful. The photo of the guys, who all seemingly have their own look, strikes me as very contemporary.
Like Sardonicus, the debut LP is suffused with jazzy tempo shifts and meanderings. The variety of musical instrumentation shows how much talent is here; organs, sitars, deeply fuzzed out electric guitar, stand-up bass, flutes, horns, and all manner of percussives. Vocals are often more chants and hummings than full throated rocker moments. Harmonies evoke a warm sing along in the shed out back kind of prettiness. It's often a blissed out affair with traces of Zappa weird-osity in the lyrics and matter-of-fact 50's rock and roll. Much like Zappa it works because that's not the focal point of the music, but just one trick in the many that the members of Spirit have up their sleeves (hippies have huge sleeves). Songs venture often into acid jazz and even some lengthy moments of piano jazz solos. It's a dog pile at times, but only atonal once or twice. Production from 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Lou Adler, keeps it all sounding crisp despite all the ad-lib. Even with a fairly experimental feel, many songs have clear structure and would make quality A-sides. You will hear traces of The Doors and other California spaced out harmoniousness. "Fresh Garbage" is a wry poke at wasteful consumerism. Catchy too.
Well look beneath your lid some morning,
See those things you didn't quite consume
The world's a can for
Your fresh garbage.
The final track "Elijah" is a perfect example of all that Spirit has to offer; all instrumental, lots of jazz and percussion. There's a good deal of playful back and forth for much of the ten minute song and you could easily get lulled into thinking that they were just goofing off in between takes. Present are several false endings and slight dodges. I had to question if the guys had any plan at all. That is until lead axe man Randy California blows the doors off with a wailing high pitched guitar tirade finale. The tune is really the sum of its parts and a fitting finish to this first slab.
You will definitely here traces of The Doors, Sgt. Pepper era Beatles, CSN, and The Mamas and the Papas in here. The song "Taurus" has a riff that predates Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" by at least two years. Apparently the Led opened for Spirit on tour in support of this album. How convenient.
I've gotten a lot of pleasure from reading about Spirit in researching for this write-up. Although they only managed to record four albums with this set of members, those albums are all incredibly influential and ahead of their time. I highly recommend you seek one out. I see them around a bunch and usually for cheap. Happy hunting.