A First Class Tour Round The High Roads Of British Psychedelia, April 27, 2013
By Mr. S. M. Winnall “Steve Winnall” (England) – See all my reviews
This review is from: Bad Penny Opera (Audio CD)
So here it is at last. Some six years after their well-received debut album we have the second coming of the Sunset Boulevard Branch of the Village Green Appreciation Society. A baker’s dozen of postcards from the old country, Bad Penny Opera loosely follows the character of Penny, who after a broken relationship travels from the north of England to London. She acts as a sort of cipher for an American rootlessness and the quest to connect to an illusory England. It’s a pilgrimage firmly rooted in the soil of melodic sixties’ rock, but with timeless lyrics. Lightly psychedelic, but nothing chemically informed or any anachronistic tomfoolery.
The Bad Penny Overture sees us on our way, bearing something of The Small Faces. It’s an excellent start. A swirlitzer of an opening leads into a Charlatans-like heavy groove: yes, it’s decidedly danceable. But there’s a distinctly ominous feel to it as riffing vignettes point to the road ahead. It’s clear the journey we’re embarking on isn’t going to be entirely smooth. Covering the bases it does, it’s hard to tell from the Overture where we’re immediately heading. A sign homes in to view reading By Your Leave and it transpires we’re somewhere in the area of acoustic-bucolic reflection blueprinted by Nick Drake, and here resting on a rising bed of hammond organ. Glen and Deborah harmonize wistfully as lovers calling it a day. Lovely. Next up, A Better Place is ostensibly a sad song venting emotions in the aftermath of a friend passing away. But by employing a brass-fuelled music-hall feel in the vein of The Kinks’ Dead End Street, it’s also strangely uplifting and conducive to the belief we can go to, and leave this world, a better place. This is a Laughlin-Gee composition, and the only other track not solely written by Glen Laughlin is an energized makeover of Donovan’s Wear Your Love Like Heaven, replete with horns and with Deborah on lead vocals. It works a treat. Sunday Driving South is a melotronic bittersweet beauty featuring a MacCartneynesque bass line The tension and regret of a foundered relationship eventually resolving to escapism on the road, ‘Passing Mr. Toad’, on a quest for those psychedelic summers of love. And so the quality continues. World Going Mad chops to and from a rock-reggae rhythm reminiscent of The Police and has a great vibraphone part. As Above So Below is a fast busy number that kicks behind and would have suited The Monkees. Until the ante is upped further still when we arrive with Penny at London Bridge – ‘falling down’. An impeccable song from its fade-in with Space Oddity strumming, to its whimsical fairground interlude, to the mocking laughter of Mr. Punch that sees it out. It might be the other side of the penny to Waterloo Sunset, but this one really holds up against its classic swinging London antecedents. But hot on its heels comes To Love You Is A Crime. A wall of sound crashes in before giving way to a rubbery bass line. Burbling keyboards and a blissed and yearning chorus filtered through Madchester make this another of the album’s biggest stand outs. Then as we near the close guitar bleeds in for Start Again, recognizably an anthemic heart-stirrer to bring the curtain down; sounding like Matthew Fisher assisting The Beatles around the time of Hey Jude. Hope and melancholy vie for eternal supremacy as the song soars and finally ebbs away leaving just valedictory strings. Only it isn’t quite the end as like a Bad Penny the Overture returns with a vocal reprise to complete the cycle: invective making manifest what was hinted at the very beginning.
It’s been a fabulous journey, an embrace and tour of musical influences and themes fated to recur again and again. Just as you will find Bad Penny Opera has a habit of returning to your music player.