Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mick Mercer Reviews "Ballade Of Tristram's Last Harping"


By rights I should be considering forwarding my medical expenses to our pygmy chums as I had to have a whole emergency back-up team monitoring my health while this was on, the resuss squad jittery, almost nervous. I get physically sick when exposed to the Sounds Of The Sixties, which is why Punk made so much sense to me. Sergeant Pepper needs putting up against a wall and that era of milky pop and bearded men, it makes me shudder to this very day. Well, the emergency passed and I am of an essentially forgiving nature, so I will go easy on The 17th Pygmy, mad though they are, because this is a bizarrely beautiful record. I don’t approve of it, as I am sure the same ideas and melodies could have been crafted in another manner completely, but I do recognise its delicately gleaming quality.

Apparently the title comes from an actual poem, by one Gertrude Bartlett in 1916, and there’s Aubrey Beardsley illustrations involved to boot. I never liked the name Aubrey, it even sounds suspicious, like the name of a spy. (Tristram’s okay, conjuring up the image of someone feeble, but loyal.) There’s also, as you’ll see from my scan, a small scroll included but I haven’t opened that in case I can’t close it again. Anyone know what’s inside, is it some dastardly spy trick?

Anyway, they admit to being folk rock and psychedelic so I’m not blaming them although I did think today was Wednesday, in part because I thought yesterday was Tuesday, but that’s probably down to them as well. These people have no conception of time, it’s all the drugs, taken by the shovelful, don’t forget. And they’re old, being Jaxon Del Rey (Savage Republic), Meg Maryatt (Swivelneck) and all of Jeff Brenneman, Tony Davis and Drummer Dirk Doucette coming from something called White Glove Test. Without an ounce of shame they fully admit to elements of the following being heard on this record; Phil Spector, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Kinks, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Nick Cave(?), on what they claim is a musical pastiche. Pastiche my arse, he roared, not entirely sure what the term relates to. Let us explore.

‘New Generation’ gets us off to a sickeningly sweet start, dreamy and flowerchild-like, which should set alarm bells ringing; insidiously, obscenely catchy. ‘She Gets High’ is just as hideously effective, and in the same mould, like a Nesmith Monkees outtake, and apparently she, who I have always been led to believe is ‘the cat’s mother’, gets high in the velvet sky, whatever that is. ‘Last Train’ is less hidebound to Hell and has a leisurely acoustic majesty all of its own, instantly captivating stuff.

‘Beautiful Lie’ is a romantically curdled lament over doomed emotions, and while it trundles along there is something unnervingly hypnotic about it which probably means the drugs are in the ether by now. ‘Let It Shine’ twinkles easily with Meg calmly marshalling the soppy sentiments, ‘Just Like Brian Jones’ gets the old guru vibe going for its weird existence, and then ‘Dig It (Quentin’s Theme)’ simpers skilfully like a Madchester dance thing combined with groovetastic Kylie, but adhering to strict Sixties principles too, so it’s got a triple-puke thing going on, and yet it makes it all work, which is insane! Where’s my lawyer?

‘It’s Only Love’ is a plainer thing but no less charming with cooler male vocals, and then Meg returns to set ‘Paint Me’ oozing along with both a dour side and an uplifting sense of optimism, which is not you could really say about the closing lilt of ‘Like This Train’ which has our protagonist threatening to come after someone, even though it seems a reluctant hunt of convenience. He doesn’t sound threatening exactly, more like an irritation, although everyone in America has guns - I read that somewhere – so you never know, but this achieves a weird, slowly deflating end to a very strange and horribly successful record. Seriously, it is utterly brilliant despite the form it frequently takes, so I shall huff petulantly and hate them for it.

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