Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Troggs—
Love Is All Around


Released 1968 on Fontana/Mercury
The Seth Man, April 2002ce
If less is more, than The Troggs were the most.
If their sound were any more stripped down, it would be complete silence.

The Troggs’ second American LP (comprised mainly of their past several UK singles) “Love Is All Around” seems like backing tracks galore are missing, but no: everything that needs to be there is there. The near-neglected drums veer to virtual non-existence throughout the album, but when they don’t, they’re so sporadic or moronically simple they make Maureen Tucker sound like Buddy Rich in comparison. And the guitars seem to serve to either colour in only some of the many spaces between vocal deliveries, prop up the choruses or to occasionally gather frenetically in misplaced corners. Production is terminally dry monophonic that place lead vocalist’s Reg Presley bawled-out ‘leer-ics’ to centre stage and they dwarf everything. This causes their double entendre-nesses to fail and fall by the wayside time and time again because they’re delivered so simple and to the point there’s no place for them to even modestly pretend they’re really about holding hands or kissing your sister instead.

For years I thought this was their psychedelic album -- what with the Victorian greeting card cover, swirling Art Nouveau type and the title track with the string section backing straight offa The Pretty Things’ forced fake effete “Emotions” album. The title track barely had drums and seemed to be every inch a ploy to launch Reg’s ‘solo’ career with a far sweeter sound and sentimental intention than was previously heard emanating from his glottis. But no: the title track from “Love Is All Around” was only a sweetly false lure into the far darker terrain of the rest of the album and in retrospect probably functioned as a ballast for the rest of the album’s wayward and hormonally-raging vocals away from imminent Puritan prosecution.

The album really begins with the epic “Night Of The Long Grass.” A crude wind machine of vocal howls move ceaselessly over the rickety and partially-erased “You Really Got Me” guitar and near absent drums as Reg intones a particularly memorable romantic encounter one night on the moors, recounting how “I lay your head down/Upon a pillow made of leaves and straw...” as her long hair spills out and around her shoulders as the heaving pace of anticipation that pervades just swells and swells further. Reg breathlessly issues forth the following high point of his frolic on that equally squalling moonlit night on the heath: “With lips apart/I thought that you would call my name/Instead, the peace that followed/Was enough to melt my brain...” Mercy! “Night Of The Long Grass,” man: it’s phantasmal as hell.

Coming back down to earth, a monophonically reverbed guitar breaks open the Bo Diddley beat-off of “Gonna Make You” with tom-tom playing that make The Strangeloves seem like the city slicker session guys they really were. It’s so sparse, even the bass has to aid and abet the bottom rhythm by playing along with it. That is, until the break for the hilariously ham-fisted, one-fingered Paul Samwell-Smith styled bass “rave up” rumble, but at half the speed. It’s such a spirited romp and they’re hardly technicians, but they’re so behind Reg on this one as he repeats over and over (as though it’ll grant him his only wish): “Gonna make you.../Gonna make you.../Gonna make you.../All mine.” Without those last two words to quantify Reg’s desire, it probably would’ve come off as an indecent proposal by ‘67 pop single standards (Which it probably did, anyway.) “Any Way That You Want Me” sees the string section return to quaver along with the last word of Reg’s pledge “from the depth of mah SOUL” as though to underline his undying sincerity. Ha -- people probably thought the true meaning of this near acoustic Chip Taylor self-plagiarisation of “Wild Thing” was nothing less than an open invite for ANY other kind of copulation if said female didn’t wanna go all the way with poor old Reg. And all the while, the drums just pretend they’re not there.

The pitter-patter of shoebox tom-toms resounds throughout the monophonic reverb of “66-5-4-3-2-1” with a slashing, near no-chord guitar as Reg menacingly repeats after the title’s countdown number: “Cuz I know what you want” / “Cuz I know what you want” / “Cuz I know what you want” / “Cuz I know what you want.” This “what you want” could be only one thing as Reg knows all too well, warning: “Some day we’ll overdo it/Someday we’ll go too far...” because he’s as tense and terse as his black haired lass and they’re both panting at each other. But Reg knows full well if anybody comes up for air with a fertilized womb, he’ll be instantly financially stricken down and reduced to pawning all his belongings just to keep in nappies. Oh, unfair world...especially with that thumping beat pounding on poor Reg’s temples (as well as all his other pulse areas.)

Drummer Ronnie Bond steps up to sing his own “When Will The Rain Come” in one of the album’s rare non-sexual come-ons, and ends the side with a strident and fumbled Byrdsian 12-string driven thing while the bass operates in place of the drums. It’s good, but it ain’t Reg by any stretch, so flip the platter, McPhatter...

Side two commences with “Little Girl” and a trilling and flowery ensemble of woodwinds appears. Reg gets as gooey as he did on “Any Way That You Want Me” but here for all his illegitimisin’ ways, he stands bravely by his unmarried paramour as a distant drum set and explosive hand claps operate as the only percussion. The high water mark stomper “I Can’t Control Myself” begins with Reg crying out “OH, NOOOooo!” barely able to not only contain himself, but Little Reg as well. A “David Watts” type melody with “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” vocal backing makes it far more primitive and gutsier than any of Tommy James & The Shondells’ cynically sleazoid takes on The Troggs’ very own entendre pop perversions. “Your slacks are low/And your hips are showin’...” is only one thing causing Reg mucho pent-up angst in the pants. He finally declares: “You fill me so with this big temptation/This kind of feeling could move a nation!” And when the “ba-ba-ba”s come in, it DOES feel like a marching regiment going off to wage love upon every virgin in the land, leaving no square foot of womanhood’s fertile soil untilled. “Girl In Black” has the most drumming anywhere on the album, exploding in near Keith Moon type flourishes as the grating guitar generates more gyrating sloppiness than Reg hisself when he gets his turn up at bat with the girl in black. Loud, simple and rattling snare hits inject Reg’s pleas in “Give It To Me (All Your Love)” whose parenthetical title was probably at the record company’s behest.

On the closing number “Cousin Jane” all drums and guitars are replaced by only the cuddliest of pre-teen, girly sounds the like of massed low piano keys, strings and a xylophone playing a tinkling musical box melody. It’s all teddy bear coziness, except for Reg’s furtive whisperings of the lyrics to himself under his bed covers: “Cousin Jane/Cousin Jane/Come to stay again...” The following couplets illustrate exactly why Reg is intoning all reverentially about some ol’ cousin and not just playing pup tent as things turn darker than a corridor rendezvous after all the folks have all gone to bed:

”Each night tiptoe across the landing
Kiss her lips just as she’s standing there,
As she’s standing there...”

“Each night hold her until the morning
See her take her place without yawning --
No one will ever know.”

(I can’t believe it, either.) It falls just on THIS side of sleazy and for it’s initial creepiness, in some insane way is also a very innocent and sweet song that and only hints at what you (don’t) want to think it’s about. Reg intones the name of the song over and over like a mantra into the fade out, clutching it close to his memory, fantasy or maybe both. Maybe some things ARE better left unsaid. But The Troggs broke all the rules in going overboard trying to say them ALL in their visceral, unvarnished and totally unique style.