Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Mad River

Released 1968 on Capitol (orig) Edsel (re)
Reviewed by Fastnbulbous, 17/06/2000ce

Mad River (1st Album)
People: Dave Robinson (lead guitar)
Thomas Manning (vocals, 12 string, occasional bass)
Gregory Leroy Dewey (Drums, occasional vocals, fence, worms, recorder)
Rick Bochner (vocals 2nd lead guitar, 12 string)
Lawrence Hammond (lead vocals, bass, lead guitar, 12 string, recorder)
Songs: Merciful Monks
High All the Time
Amphetamine Gazelle
Eastern Light
Wind Chimes
War Goes On
Hush Julian

Story: The first time I heard Mad River my hair stood on end. That was nearly 30 years ago. Today it still does. They only existed for about 4 years, in which time they made 2 albums and their leader, Lawrence Hammond made one (to my knowledge) solo. Forget the solo and the follow-up, the debut was a quintessential acid, speed, dope, distorted, jangling, guitar masterpiece with surreal lyrics and tortured vocals somewhat like a distant cousin of Hammill.
Originally released in 1968, due to a mastering error the resulting vinyl played back faster than it was recorded. Speedy enough to begin with, this made it a tough album to listen to. The CD reissue on Edsel rectified this error, and if you can find a copy the effort is well rewarded. The Rick Griffin lettering and the solarized black and white photo of the band leering threateningly at the camera is a hint of whats inside. The main reason for the bands drop by Capitol records was the surreal, druggy lyrics, and psychotic sound. Another clue.
They are actually one of the most psychedelic sounding bands of the era. Fans of Beefhearts Trout Mask Replica who have not heard Mad River will recognise similarities (Mad River were earlier), and fans of Quicksilver, Big Brother and Grateful Dead will make a few adjustments to their knowledge of the San Franciscan pantheon. They were actually neighbours of Country Joe and the legendary Frumious Bandersnatch (watch this space) over in Berkeley, but, hey, lets not go train spotting.
Merciful Monks opens with rocky riffs and frantic part play, strained vocals and crazy lyrics. Check out
Didnt you say
I could hold a broom and sweep the burning nostrils into the sea?
Course I did, Lawrence. I say things like that all the time. From here it descends into frantic guitar mania and lick upon lick that will drive you mad just for once in your gaze of ether, to quote again. Next comes High All The Time. Very Quicksilvery and Big Brothery, this is all about what you might guess. Great big movies inside your head, your minds eye is just a camera taking photographs.
After an imitation of a speed freak explaining his gibbering, Amphetamine Gazelle is about the smashed incoherent suspicions we all suffer from occasionally that we are turning into a gazelle. Dont we?
Eastern Light is a sentimental epic strung on a blues scale with a sad, moody bridge and a wistful climax. For me the only slightly weak track on the album. What was originally side 2 begins with Wind Chimes. Literally tinkling in the wind, and a recorder thrown in. Dont go thinking this is going to be a wispy lyrical breeze though, because it builds and builds. Gentle harmonics and rhythm guitar are overtaken by panning distorted lead that develops into an eastern jam of power, complexity and stunning beauty with an almost Bach-like quality at one point, followed by a tattoo of a drum climax from Dewey and a gentle subsiding afterglow.
Just when you thought you couldnt take any more the 12-and-a-half minute War Goes On screeches, grinds and squeals its way into the theatre of your mind. Echoes of early Amon Duul in places. This is Apocalypse Now with the soundtrack it should have had. Move over Doors, this is the real Viet Nam thing. Its a warts and all grinding, screaming angry horror story of a song; taste the napalm. You are still wondering what hit you when the brief lullabye, Hush Julian, is over and the album is at an end.
Big Beat Records issued The Berkeley E.P.s which contains an alternative version of Wind Chimes, A Gazelle and the unavailable elsewhere Orange Skies, another anti-Vietnam ode, plus 3 tracks from the stunning Frumious Bandersnatch. Both CDs also come with useful biographical information.

Reviews Index