Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mike Heron-SMILING MEN WITH BAD REPUTATIONS CD (Fledg'ling, England)

Here's one more from my latest buying binge, a not-so-recent yet obscure reissue of Incredible String Band member Mike Heron's first solo disc that originally came out way back in '71 on Island over England way and Elektra here in the Salt Mines. And I'll bet yer wonderin' why I even picked this 'un up because y'see, I wouldn't necessarily call myself an ISB fan by any stretch of the imagination and heck, I can't even recall hearing 'em other'n the time I took one of their albums outta the local library back in my high school days and I don't even remember what any of the music on that 'un sounded like! Well, the only reason I snatched SMILING MEN... up was because of the review of the single this was culled from that appeared in the last and most gigundo issue of JAMZ fanzine of all places. It popped up in the section where various rock writer heavies like Greg Shaw and Richard Meltzer got the blab on about their favorite singles, most if not all of them obscurities that might have ended up on various PEBBLES-styled anthologies a few years later if lucky. (This is the piece where Meltzer reviewed the sole Titfield Thunderbolt ["the MC5 of Virginia", pre-Bomis Prendin] single that I've been anxious to hear for nigh over twennysome years already!) One of the writers, either Charles Beasley or (I believe his first name is...) Charles Fleury or one of those close Alan Betrock associates who had a big hand in pushing Sparks' career over here in the states was going on about how great the "Warm Heart Pastry"/"Lady Wonder" single of Heron's was, calling it "metaphysical punk rock" of all things! And hey, even at that stage in the game I was on the hunt for MORE AND MORE seventies punk rock even if some acoustic English hippy was dishing it out, because frankly the eighties variation on the form really was starting to bore me to bits and you know I'm always looking for a hook.

Naturally I bought the album and naturally most of it got on my nerves, because frankly SMILING MEN... wasn't quite the punk rocker that I (and probably the other thousand kidz reading that review) was hoping for. Expecting punk rock on progressive terms a la NADIR'S BIG CHANCE or better yet HERE COME THE WARM JETS, Heron's not-that-far-off-the-Stonehenge-path effort did leave me cold with its usual English folk rock whimsy, not forgetting the obligatory Indian sitar drone-a-thon that I'm sure made more'n a few people wanna shove a veena down George Harrison's throat sideways. But just when I was ready to snatch the rec outta my machine and chuck it through the window came "Warm Heart Pastry" (the a-side of the aforementioned single) which was incredible with "Tommy and his Bijoux" and John Cale on viola providing the musical accompaniment. Y'know, at first I thought that these Bijoux were some strange English under-the-covers type of band sorta like the Nikki Kool and the Koolaids and Randi and the Pyramids who used to help Brian Eno out, but I had since learned that these guys were actually the Who, or actually the trio of Townshend, Moon and Ronnie Lane on bass which does tend to ruin the illusion a tiny bit, and y'know sometimes I think these illusions are just as, and in fact even more important than the real thing! Or at least I tend to think so when I do come across the real thing, but still this is one hot group backing Heron up. The song is punk, or more closely late-sixties Amerigan garage rock-styled with only the femme backing vocals giving any hint of this numbuh's English early-seventies origins. Otherwise, if you told me that this was some obscure studio recording by some long-gone 1969 upstarts I probably would believe ya!

Two bonus tracks appear as well, including non-LP b-side "Lady Wonder" where Jimmy Page and a couple Fairport Conventioneers get the backup honors. Not as p-rock in approach or sound, though Page's slide guitar is killer enough to have made me glad that I finally did get to hear this. And hey, the entire album does have enough of a ear-pleasing lilt to it to make at least good backdrop to late-night readings of old and forgotten fanzines and Max's Kansas City clippings, so it's not like SMILING MEN...'s gonna be one of those twice-a-lifetime spins for you, unnerstan'?

3 comments:

William said...

As a founding member of TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT (as "Key Ring Torch"), it's sure happy news to me that Mr. Meltzer was a fan... I do find it hard to understand the MC5 comparison, though....

Christopher said...

Well, Meltzer did write that the Titfield Thunderbolt "consider(ed) themselves the MC5 of Virginia" though perhaps he was once again making up one of his fibs in order to confuse things (mainly ME!) even more! Hey, would you like to do an article on the "Key Ring Torch"/Titfield Thunderbolt for either this blog or perhaps my own long-buried fanzine???

Christopher said...

Spotted one mistake...the Heron single was actually "Call Me Diamond"/"Lady Wonder"...surprised none of you picked up on that!