Review: The Pretty Things – The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course . . . )

Posted on: Sunday, Jul 5, 2015

PRETTY THINGS The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course.).jpg

The Pretty Things – The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in Bed Now, Of Course . . . )

(Repertoire: REPUK1265)

This surprise release is a timeless blast of everything that has made this band such an enduring enigma for the past 52 years. Everything, that is, apart from the blues!

The Pretty Things, unlike a lot of their contemporaries, still seem perfectly comfortable with absolutely every mood they’ve embraced in a career that for many years mirrored the quickly changing times.

Their no-nonsense early mid-60s rhythm ‘n’ blues burst was abruptly replaced by a period as pioneers of UK psychedelia, emerging as a tasteful but hard-hitting rock/pop outfit, before stumbling through splits and line-up changes back towards where they started. Being responsible for rock’s very first ‘rock-opera’ might seem a dubious boast these days but these guys, named after a Willie Dixon song, are as proud of ‘SF Sorrow’ as anything else they’ve done.

‘Unrepentant’ seems to be the mood and their motto. The title of this first studio album in seven years is the first line of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” (but you knew that) although I think they would have been equally happy to have used another line from that song “my advice is to not let the boys in.” This is an aggressive, ‘live in the studio’ session cut on vintage analogue equipment with few overdubs, save for occasional glorious, stacked harmonies and a touch of organ and mellotron.

Producer Mark St John co-wrote opener “The Same Sun” with veteran guitarist Dick Taylor and it typifies the set, a deep, chiming mix with searing guitars, Phil May’s ageless vocal and thundering drums from Jack Greenwood. Another original “And I Do” repeats this intensive formula with guest Nick Brockway’s Hammond firmly pressing down the power chords.

Those who reckoned they couldn’t afford this year’s Pretty Things 50th anniversary box set ‘Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky’ will doubtless now realise that resistance is futile. They’ve got to get it while they still can, especially for rarities and live cuts dating back to 1964. And the re-emergence of these tracks has clearly jogged the band’s memory as they’ve revisited their cover of the Byrds’ “Renaissance Fair,” faithful enough to the original to also clock in well short of two minutes.

Even better is the new recording of a demo from ’67. A version of “Turn My Head” does appear on the Pretties’ BBC sessions release but the cut here is less psych, with a stronger vocal and punchier all round. In between these two tracks is a raucous cover of The Seeds’ “You Took Me By Surprise”, like the original, as much Black Sabbath as garage punk.

‘Dark Days’, by May and longish-serving guitarist Frank Holland, is also heavy stuff, lightened only slightly by another wall of backing vocals. Psychedelic instrumental ‘Greenwood Tree’ has a solo by the eponymous drummer, whose work on this whole set is tremendous. ‘Here, Here And Nowhere’ is a mournful minor-key ballad from the pen of young bass player George Woosey which changes gear splendidly with more vocals that hark back to the ‘70s albums ‘Parachute’ and ‘Freeway Madness’. More late ‘60s mood flavours the last two offerings, ‘In The Soukh’ (a slightly throwaway instrumental by Dick Taylor), and ‘Dirty Song’ with lyrics composed on the spot by May.

But wait blues fans! There is also a newish release for those who want to revisit the pure rhythm ‘n’ blues of the early Pretty Things. The vinyl-only ‘Live At The 100 Club’ (LMS 001) is a complete reworking of the group’s first LP from 1964, recorded in 2010 and released last year on its 50th anniversary. Clearly a band for all the ages.

JOHN BOTTOMLEY

www.theprettythings.com

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