Reviews: Electric Light Orchestra, Crystal Jacqueline, Fruits de Mer, Hawkwind, Pink Fairies

Although there’s no denying that the Electric Light Orchestra bred their fair share of overblown turkeys over the years, still one would need to be a curmudgeon of the highest order not to appreciate at least some of their oeuvre.  Even if it is just their singles output.
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Also published in the December 2018 issue of Goldmine magazine

 (PRNewsfoto/Legacy Recordings)

(PRNewsfoto/Legacy Recordings)

Although there’s no denying that the Electric Light Orchestra bred their fair share of overblown turkeys over the years, still one would need to be a curmudgeon of the highest order not to appreciate at least some of their oeuvre.Even if it is just their singles output.

Particularly through the seventies, ELO were peerless purveyors of 45-flavored fun, from the debut “10538 Overture” and a storming “Roll Over Beethoven,” through the mock-Beatlesque symphonics of “Telephone Line” and “Livin’ Thing,” “Evil Woman” and “Turn To Stone,” and even the absurdities of “Mr Blue Sky” and “Wild West Hero.”

Now all of the band’s 1972-78 singles have been rounded up as a sixteen-strong box set, The UK Singles Volume One 1972-78 (Legacy), that exquisitely replicates original labels and packaging, b-sides and edits… an instant ELO greatest hits package that still echoes to the strains of some extraordinarily fine pop music.

Yes, ELO may have aimed for the stars in the studio, unveiling techniques and tricks that mere mortals could barely imagine.But it was when their work was down on wax, and thrown into the market with the rest of the world that Jeff Lynne and co’s true genius was revealed.

At their best (and most of these singles are indisputably that), ELO hatched ear worms like Mrs Wagner peddled pies, and the quality of the pressings here matches the music contained within.Each single, as we’ve said, lovingly recreates its forty-plus year old counterpart, cleanly pressed and sounding superb.And if you don’t get enough from the first fifteen discs in the box, the sixteenth serves up a 1978 EP that reprises four of the best one more time.Add a sturdy box in which to keep them, and you couldn’t ask for more.

Two new albums by Crystal Jacqueline emerge.Well, we say “new,” although long time listeners to this most startlingly evocative of current UK explorers are sure to recognize most of the contents at least.

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Cunningly packaged to unflinchingly resemble an old Trademark of Quality bootleg LP, Crystal Jacqueline Live (Mega Dodo) was recorded at the Sonic Rock Solstice Festival in 2017, an eight song collection that betrays its bootleggy aura only by packing perfect sound quality into the grooves.

Opening with an epic and echo-laden “Sun Arise,” and moving on through “Hyacinth,” “Siren” and Mary Poppins’ “Fly A Kite,” Live doubles as a truncated greatest hits set, of course, but the performances step dramatically away from their studio counterparts, into realms of both astonishing purity (the Jacqueline voice) and stunning instrumentation.The take on “Grantchester Meadows” remains one of the few Pink Floyd covers that truly matches the original, while“A Fairy Tale” likewise leaps off from where both the Secondhand and CJ themselves left off in the studio.

And if you’ve not heard the latter, despair not.We Fill In Forms and Mow The Lawns (Fruits de Mer/Friends of the Fish) offers a generous round-up of singles, flexidiscs, out-takes and more, from both Crystal Jacqueline and the Honey Pot band that she leads with guitarist Icarus Peel.

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Again, long-time listeners will know a lot of it - an extended version of the “A Fairy Tale” single is joined by another Floyd cover (“Remember A Day,” remixed for the occasion), the Hollies’ “Step Inside” (recorded for, but ultimately left off Fruits de Mer’s Hollies tribute), the theme from The Avengers, “Moonsong: Pelog,” the Verve’s “The Drugs Don’t Work”… the emphasis here is on covers, but the invention and imagination that the performers bring to their choices is itself the equivalent of a brand new song.Hear them once and love them forever.

Talking of Fruits de Mer, though… this year marks the tenth anniversary of the little label that could, and among a barrel load of celebrations, the triple LP The Three Seasons is a lovingly curated recreation of the golden age of psych, 1966-1968, as seen and heard through twenty-seven bands and songs.Including a few names that even non-FdM fans might recognize.

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Latter day versions of the Pretty Things, the Yardbirds and the Electric Prunes all revisit past triumphs… and not exclusively their own triumphs, either.The Prunes’ “7 & 7 Is” is amazing!

The Jacqueline/Peel/Honey Pot axis restate Simon Dupree’s “Kites” and Jeff Beck’s “Bolero”; Cary Grace does the near impossible and makes a Hendrix classic sound like a demo (“1983 (A Merman I Should Be…)”; Rob Gould turns in an astonishing “Granny Takes A Trip”; the Luck of Eden Hall take on Alice Cooper’s “Reflected”… we could make lists like this all day, but the key point is, not one track here fails to deliver more, much more, than any cover has a right to, and a lot of them don’t even feel like covers.It’s a masterpiece through and through.

There’s a new Hawkwind album out and it’s… different.So we’ll reclaim our faith in the old brandname by turning the clock back 46 years to the Space Ritual tour of 1972, and a brand new repackaging of the Brixton Sundown concert at the end of the outing.

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Previously released in a variety of guises, but most famously as Space Ritual 2 (1, of course, was the United Artists double album of irreproachable genius), it appears now as Victim of Sonic Attack (Cleopatra), two clear vinyl discs in a photo-laden gatefold, packaged inside a bright red cloth bag.

It’s a glorious looking artifact, the best these tapes have ever seen, and the vista is just as appealing inside - not a full show, but a great one, and sounding better on vinyl than the preceding army of CDs ever have.

It’s a limited edition of just 500, though, so better hurry….

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Of similar vintage, in terms of name recognition, the Pink Fairies, too, are back on the racks and this time it is a new album.

Original guitarist Paul Rudolph alone flies the Fairy flag today, with ex-Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey and Motorhead co-founder Lucas Fox making up the numbers.

But Resident Reptiles (Cleopatra) is the Fairies through and through, a blistering blitzkrieg of dirty-ass street rock’n’roll, and the finest noise the Fairies have made since whatever your last favorite album was.Spin Cycle has always been uncommonly partial to What a Bunch of Sweeties, and it’s good to know that neither time nor space have disrupted Paul Rudolph’s grasp on great noise.

Crank this one up loud.Your neighbors will thank you.