Artist: Alice's Orb
Title: Even The Grass Is Full Of Acid
Label: Strangely Brown
Catalogue Number: SB008
Year of Release: 1992
This was going to be a short piece. I was going to say, if you like x band or y artist , then give these folks a listen, and that would be about it. But I gave this album a bit more time, and then a bit more. And before I knew where I was (I didn't actually get geographically lost, but you know what I mean) I'd gone above and beyond the call of duty to the power of three, and listened to both sides of this LP many more times than is strictly necessary for the current project. And that's because, as I discovered to my surprise, I've come across a record I genuinely like. A lot.
1992. 15 years ago... a collection of the best bits from various cassettes that are advertised in the yellow insert pictured above. If you look closely there's an address at the bottom of the picture furthest right, where you might still be able to get Alice's Orb tapes, although perhaps not for the £1.50 quoted on the insert... but that's inflation for you. Regardless, you should buy some, and here's why:
There's so little going for this record. It's been recorded on 4- and occasionally (maybe when they felt a bit flush) 6-tracks. They aren't the best of musicians, singers, producers, or even lyricists. But it is fun. This is music done with passion. It reminds me of Harry Smith archive recordings from a time when music was for sitting around, listening to, and enjoying - not for commercial gain. I think the fact that a follow up release, of which they only made 300, is still available here, and for £12.00 at that, testifies. I'll be buying one, you should too.
So what does it actually sound like? Since you ask, Syd Barrett [r.i.p.], early-Floyd (there's a difference), The Beach Boys and The Soft Boys.
But it starts off with a keyboard instrumental that I think just pre-dates, and has much in common with, Spiritualized's Take Good Care of It, although Alice's Orb segue (love that word) into You Are My Sunshine, which Spiritualized never did to my knowledge.
Album opener proper, Coalbarn Blues, suffers from some hit and miss harmonising, and low vocal quality, but gives you the impression it would be a stormer in a live setting. The backwards guitar and vocal parts gave it a Pow R Toc H feel too, which is never a bad thing.
The remainder of this side is a mish-mash of Beach Boys harmonies, splash cymbals drowning stuff out, na-na-na wah-wah-wah choruses and Leslie speaker effects. Most notable is Telescope. If I was being kind, I'd say the start was an homage to Careful with that Axe Eugene. If I wasn't I'd just say they nicked it, but then it launches into an amalgamation of Jugband Blues without the Salvation Army, and Vegetable Man. Great stuff. Then there's Masonic drums (by which I mean drums like Nick Mason) and Rick Wright style keyboarding a-go-go, a bit like One of These Days off of Echoes. Imagine if Syd had never left the band. Just imagine. Then imagine that they all lost their money, and ended up slumming it in Luton in the early nineties with nary a pot to piss in. It would have sounded like this.
The second side has other great tunes on, although opener Psycho Doodle shows that instrumentals are very much this band's strong point, the lyrics being a bit pants - but the metronomic drum player (unless it is a drum machine, hard to tell with the quality) is quietly impressive. Mi Lady features the best Pet Sounds style harmonising on the whole shebang, and Horace's Magick Pyjamas shows again that instrumentals are this band's strong point, the song title being a bit pants. I don't actually want to spoil any more of this for you, convinced as I am that an Alice's Orb reunion and world tour are just around the corner, but I'm just going to say four more things:
1) The album's last track I Love You was an intriguing blend of Wisdom of Harry and AMP Studio.
2) If you don't fall about laughing at the spoken-word part of Teardrops, you are a better man than I, and I mean that even if you're a woman. Don't bother with that one on the world tour lads.
3) Doesn't one of them look like the lead singer of Arab Strap?
4) There will be a prize of my choosing to the first person who tells me where "Even the grass is full of acid" is a quote from. I know I've read it somewhere, but 3 minutes on Google didn't solve it.
That tracklisting in full:
1. Alice's Orb
2. Coalbarn Blues
3. Everyone is Free
4. Round & Round
1. Psycho Doodle
2. Mi Lady
3. Horace's Magick Pyjamas
4. Whats in the Cupboard
5. Mr. Phelps
6. I Love You
And if they ever play Edinburgh, I'll take as many folk as I can muster.