Thursday, April 16, 2009
OKAY, I TAKE THAT BACK. THIS IS FUNNY, AND IT'S BRITISH.
It's a strange walking man. That'll make sense later...
THE MANDRAKE PADDLESTEAMER, "OVERSPILL" (BOOTLEG ALBUM)
Parlophone dropped the ball on these guys. Big time. If there were ever a band who WOULD have released a KILLER album but never got the chance, it was Mandrake Paddlesteamer. The evidence is all here, in the form of demos, acetates and blistering John Peel sessions. Unfortunately, only one single got an official release – “Strange Walking Man” b/w “Steam,” one of the first releases recorded at Abbey Road Studios. Both of those songs have been well-comped, and rightfully so, but what the rest of world HASN’T heard is the rest of this band’s mighty output. If you close your eyes and imagine what Abbey Road Studios could have done with the rest of the demos on Overspill, you’ll have to agree that Mandrake Paddlesteamer’s album would have been one of the pinnacles of British popsike. Oh, and in case you were wondering which albums Parlophone DID release in 1969 (instead of Mandrake Paddlesteamer), how does Bill Coleman’s A Paris 1936-1938 grab ya?
The band’s website points out that Mandrake Paddlesteamer were one of the few bands explicitly formed to “create an English version of the total music/lifestyle trip then being espoused by the California scene,” and if you understand that, then you probably still have a half dozen blacklight posters of topless afro goddesses hanging on your bedroom wall. In other words, while most of the British psychedelic bands – Pink Floyd, Wimple Winch, the Pretty Things, Tomorrow, the Koobas – started out as R&B, jazz or blues bands, the Manrake Paddlesteamer was specifically created to be a psychedelic rock band from the start. Whether that affected their ability to swing, rock or groove like an old R&B, jazz or blues band I don’t know. But judging from what I hear in THESE grooves, it wasn’t a problem.
If anything, the only frustration you’ll feel listening to Overspill is wondering just how AMAZING a song like “Cooger and Dark” could’ve been had the band been given a chance to flesh it out with some Abbey Road production tricks. As it stands, it’s still a MONUMENTAL slab of blistering heavy freakbeat psych that sounds just like primetime Cream. Even down to the Jack Bruce-alike vocals. Pre-anointed Eric Clapton would’ve KILLED for a power guitar riff like that one, and that great descending minor key hook in the chorus is pure Disraeli Gears. There’s also a live John Peel take on Side B, proving the band could nail this puppy down every chance they got. Maybe it’s fortuitous that “Cooger and Dark” never got a proper studio recording – perhaps the Abbey Road treatment would’ve tamed it. As it stands, both the demo and John Peel takes are two of the rawest, most primal slabs of heavy psychedelia you’ll ever hear. And I STILL don’t know what the title means.
Likewise, you can hear how the rough demo of “Overspill” could’ve easily become a British popsike rival to the Koobas’ classic “Barricades” with a little help from a mixing board. It’s 5:25 of acid-riddled ambition, a complex multi-part head trip that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pretty Things’ “Defecting Grey,” Tomorrow’s “Revolution” or Wimple Winch’s “Rumble on Mersey Square South.” And if that don’t get ya, maybe the fuzzed-up Indian stomp of “Steam” will. I wonder if Hipgnosis would’ve designed their album cover.
Which brings us nicely to one of the most amazing Syd Barrett soundalikes ever created by a man whose last name isn’t Hitchcock – a song so unlike everything else on Overspill, you wonder if it’s even the same band. But “Easy Living” is an absolute masterpiece of acid-fried Pink Floyd toybox lunacy, the sound of a madcap laughing while madness slowly sets in. Only when the band erupts with a frenzied onslaught of ripping freakbeat fuzz does this even BEGIN to sound like the heavy Koobas-inspired band heard elsewhere on Overspill, and if you could imagine “Barricades” crossed with “Bike,” this is what you’d be humming while the men in the white suits set you up for another round of shock therapy. It’s another acetate-only track whose non-release should be viewed as a musical crime, but the sound quality’s really good. Hard to believe this, as well as the other songs on this rare album, have yet to see a proper release. In a year when Parlophone WAS able to rush out copies of the immortal Jazz in Britain – the 20’s. Boggles the mind.
So if you’re okay with acetate/demo fidelity, Mandrake Paddlesteamer’s Overspill is one of the most complete – okay, probably the ONLY complete collection of this band’s awesome output you’ll find. Heck, even the band’s website has only FOUR songs. Lucky you - here’s a whole album’s worth of late 60’s gems, rescued from oblivion because a stupid major label didn’t realize what they had. But Mrs. Mills’ timeless classic Back to the Roaring Twenties – Parlophone DID get that one out in 1969. It’s all about priorities, isn’t it?
CHECK OUT THE BEST TWO SONGS RIGHT HERE:
SQUID ACID METER SEZ: 9 OUT OF 10
BEST SERVED WITH: Hallucinogens and Miracle Ear