Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Spooky Tooth - The Mirror

Spooky Tooth
The Mirror

Released 1974 on GOOD EARTH
Reviewed by petew, 30/12/2009ce

With money too tight too mention, searching through the bargain racks in my local record emporium for affordable sonic thrills back in the mid seventies, didn't always bring much reward, or a particularly impressive record collection for that matter. The dubious delights of Strapps, Dirty Tricks or Nutz or the myriad number of crap bands of that era that ended in 'er' like Strider or Trickster that would nestle in the racks didn't necessarily inspire, but every now and again something decent would turn up. I remember risking a size-able proportion of one week's pocket money on Spooky Tooth's The Mirror, which turned out to be a shamefully ignored gem, and all for a pretty fair 49p as well.

Familiarity with a couple of their cuts to be found on cheapo island samplers BUMPERS and YOU CAN ALL JOIN IN, plus the 'cool looking sleeve', was enough to persuade me to hand over my cash. The front cover featured a Magritte style man with a bowler hat cut out that exposed the inner sleeve which was adorned with that kind of badly executed pop surrealism that seemed so popular in the early to mid seventies, this particular example featuring a witchy looking female, a bat, a bug eyed insect and a foetus! Wow!

Informed opinion is that definitive Spooky Tooth is to be found on their first album IT'S ALL ABOUT (1968), a fine example of late psychedelia, with a hint of heavyish bluesy rock and then of course their follow up SPOOKY TWO which would dispense with any remaining psych leanings that may be have been lingering. Heavy brooding hammond riffs would dominate, and this would set out the Spooky Tooth template, with which they would plough a familiar furrow over their next few albums with shall we say diminishing returns.

However, this sequence of stylistically similar albums through to 1974 was rudely interrupted by the gloriously bonkers quasi- religious CEREMONY (AN ELECTRONIC MASS) which featured a bizarre collaboration with french avant gardist Pierre Henry which mixed his musique concrete with Tooth leaden Rock. Where did this album come from? From a band seemingly steeped in straight ahead gospel, soul, blues and rock, this was some pretty strange shit. Check out Jubilation & Offering featuring Mike Harrison/Gary Wright sounding like their going through some out there fucked up primal scream therapy, whilst Hosanna is just truly great featuring some out -there axe work from Luther Grosvenor. It has been suggested that the album might benefit from a sans Henry mix? maybe, but it wouldn't sound half as mental. Which is definitely a bad thing in my opinion and yes it is better than the Electric Prunes Electric MASS IN F MINOR...

After frightening themselves with this much derided magnum opus of stupidy, Gary Wright jumped ship and Luther Grosvenor donned a pair of stack heels and went off to join Mott the Hoople and become Ariel Bender. The band was rebranded 'Spooky Tooth featuring Mike Harrison' and they immediately regressed back into their tried and tested formula. Due to a high proportion of covers, new album The Last Puff made them sound like a British Vanilla Fudge (not necessarily a bad thing), as a listen to their super sloooow 16 rpm version of I am Walrus will testify, they can out fudge the Fudge.

A couple more albums followed, YOU BROKE MY HEART SO I BUSTED YOUR JAW (great title, or on the other hand may be not...?) and the WITNESS just more of the same ole, same ole Traffic-lite bluesy gospel rock formula really... however during this period Gary Wright returned but by '74 Harrison quit and Mike Patto was drafted in to replace him.

Whether or not it was Harrison leaving or Patto's influence, THE MIRROR was a radical departure from what had gone before. Spooky Tooth had gone funky and started moving into a more groove orientated commercial sound. Around the same time Deep Purple started terrifying their legions of great coated fans by getting all soulful with STORMBRINGER, this led to Ritchie Blackmore to flounce off to Valhalla to form Rainbow with predictable results...

But, in the immortal words of George Clinton "who says a white band can't play funky", Spooky Tooth proved the wisdom of the P-FUNK master. You could say Mike Patto was David Coverdale to Gary Wright's Glenn Hughes, but certainly the two different styles created an interest that Harrison and Wright together didn't. But of course Patto didn't indulge in that chest beating ohh babeee rock nonesense that Coverdale would later move onto to perfect with the excruciating Whitesnake.

THE MIRROR does have a bit of a AOR feel to it, but you shouldn't let that put you off, lets face it Gary Wright did go on to have a massive hit with DREAMWEAVER in the states, and that was the kind of synth driven soft rock horror that would make any sane person realise that PUNK ROCK WAS NECESSARY and don't even think about the crimes against music guitarist Mick Jones went onto to commit with Uber AORists Foreigner! SO WHAT DO YOU EXPECT!

But I digress, from the first track Fantasy Satisfier we find Gary Wright seeking physical and spiritual release with his Fantasy Satisfier on this funky little rocker, lots of phased vocal harmonies, this is fun... then we're then straight into Two Time Love with a nasty and bass driven riff, which shows how for every Fantasy Satisfier who can show you a higher path, there ain't always sunshine on the road to find true love when the object of Mike Patto' affections is found to be sleeping with his best friend. Goddamn it!

Well so far, lyrically this ain't Bobby Dylan as you have probably gathered, but what the hey it is 1974 and a lot of bands concerns around that time didn't seem to go much beyond paeans to Ladies of the road and the occupational hazards that go with job, like uhh drugs, general Dionysian behaviour and trouble with women, you may recall ubiquitous Lady Double Dealers and Mistress Mistrusts (or something like) cropping up in many a song lyric back then and these BALL BUSTERS were only after these poor guys HARD EARNED BREAD!...which possibly made the lads yearn for a little stability in their lives, as Gary Wright then wheels out the lamest track on the album Kyle, where previously we may have been led to believe all the band were really looking for was kicks with fast living chicks. But here is a slice of uber - bland mush, Gary pleads that all he really wants is to settle down with someone a bit more reliable! 'Kyle it ain't easy, I can't bear to live without you near me'...

Well moving swiftly on to track four and it is good to see it is situation normal again. A frantic Bootsy style bass line launches into Woman and Gold, a warning of how the rocknroll lifestyle can ruin a man, whilst final cut Higher Circles sees a return to that slow and heavy Spooky Tooth sound, as self doubt creeps in here as Gary decides to quit his friends and his barren lifestyle and move up to a higher circle.

Flipping over to side two, the album starts to feel like there is a bit of a concept developing,a struggle between dark and light, chaos and order no less, that old Dionysuis/Apollianian tiff again... First track Hell or High Water is ambivalent, lines such could 'only now leaving you now I see was wrong it, leaving you solved nothing at all', this seems to hint at something darker. The track itself has a gospel feel, however try not to be too disturbed by the use of the voicebox, that strange device that Peter Frampton used to such disturbing affect on his mega hit Show me the Way. I'm Alive is a straight ahead piano led rocker which has Gary Wright thanking the Lord that he has come through the night, whilst the title track the Mirror is a bleak existential horror suggesting that Gary Wright's cause for optimism on the previous cut was premature, Mike Patto retorts 'the mirror looked through hell and damned me where I fell' and 'now I'm looking through the mirror I don't know whether it is day or night'. though the coda fades out to repeat the refrain 'see the light, see the light', are we seeing the band on the brink of a religious moment of epiphany, coming through the otherside of the rocknroll lifestyle, Mike Patto's lyrics with his eypnomous band touched on this on more than one or occasion.

1974 was a year of political unrest,Vietnam was grinding on, the Watergate scandal erupted, the three day week and chronic industrial action dragged the UK to the brink and final track The Hoofer moves from the personal to the political under the guise of this upbeat funky Randy Newman stylee number 'what's coming down, don't look good to me/ it's definable in Websters Dictionary as critical, but when this stuff hits the ceiling at no time will my feet leave my ankles'. The outro features a nice funky refrain with Mike Patto imploring 'don't let the long faced mother wearing a frown get you down, don't let them get down'...Things may not be going to great but there is an underlying sense of optimism to the album. Great art especially rock, (note the obsession with tragic figures in rock and rock) generally emphasises the fall, the horror of life, the Mirror recognises this, but also shows that there is hope. Is it a quasi christian rock album? Dunno, I think Gary Wright went onto find God, but whatever it was Spooky Tooth's last will and testament, certainly more commercial than their the rest of their oeuvre, but I reckon it's their best and if you've got a penchant for DEEP PURPLE Marks 3 and 4 or TRAPEZE'S YOU ARE THE MUSIC WE ARE BAND, it's worth checking out.

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