Artist: Alice's Orb
Title: The Psychedelic World of Geoffrey Tremaine
Label: Madcap Records
Catalogue Number: Madcap Records 01
Year of Release: 1998
A1 Red Chalk Hill
A2 Grasshopper Man
A3 Hoffmans Holiday
A4 Steve First Man on the Sun
B1 Space Winds
B3 Psycho Doodle
B4 Wizard in the Wood
Firstly, an announcement - I am not buying any records in 2008. Therefore this is definitely, definitely the end of Letter A for a while, and we can get back on the alphabetical track.
And now to the review. I was hugely enthusiastic about this band in my review of their first album, 1992's Even The Grass Is Full Of Acid, and I was surprised to find that I've missed out on getting their second album Indelible Witch Cream. It turns out therefore that this is their third album, and is not really the third album proper, being a collection of "out-takes and rarities" - which unless you are a big fan of any given band putting such a compilation out - should normally make you put it back on the shelves and walk rapidly away.
I bought this online (caveat emptor), from the sadly now defunct Freak Emporium, so had no idea that the first five tracks were demos for the intended third album. To their credit, the demo-feel is only really apparent on the album opener Red Chalk Hill, the vocals overloading a couple of times, and the backwards cymbals sounding like they are being played down the street. This is the only cover version on the album (although I had a certain amount of fun playing 'spot the Pink Floyd track' with most of the others) of an obscure late 60s outfit called The Factory (more on them at The Always Blue Society).
Grasshopper Man is very similar indeed to Pink Floyd's Saucerful of Secrets out-take Vegetable Man, right down to having a "ha ha ha ha" chorus. It's a nice slab of psychedelia though, full of wah-wah and backwards guitar and Syd Barrett-style vocals. There's an instrumental passage towards the end where synth brass sounds are used instead of real brass, and it ends with some Beach Boys-like harmonised vocals. Good, but I think covering Vegetable Man would have been better.
Hoffman is the story of what is also apparently known as Bicycle Day (see wikipedia for more), where chemist Albert Hoffman deliberately doses himself with LSD. It's like a cross between Scream Thy Last Scream (also a Barrett-penned out-take from Saucerful) and Mathilda Mother from Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It also goes on a bit too long, and some of the rhyming is very lazy(/hazy/crazy, being an example).
Steve First Man On The Sun is the most original track on the whole album, and is the inspiring tale of an inventor making a machine to fulfil his dream of going in to space. After an oddly classical-string keyboard opening the tale is told over sparse acoustic guitars, bass, and some light keyboard touches. The vocal style is like track one, but clearer. There are some nice lyrical touches bringing the cosmic down to the mundane, with mentions of space flight and heavenly bodies juxtaposed with fruit, clotted cream, and umbrellas. It's really a very nice song indeed. Except one thing kind of spoils it, and I can't tell whether it's intentional or not. The chorus is simple the protagonist's name, said twice, in a very drawn-out fashion. Like this:
Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeve, yes it's
As I said, not sure if you're meant to find this funny intentionally, but it is.
The B-side is a departure from copying Syd Barrett's vocal style, as lead singer Jeff Ross appears to be copying Roger Waters on Ummagumma, specifically the lovely Granchester Meadows. There are bongos added to the acoustic guitar, and the ending changes the track completely, into Astronomy Domine.
The less said about Reflections the better. It was an out-take "from the 1993 Pyramid sessions", and I think they should have left it there.
A brief digression on contrariness follows. According to the sleeve notes "The version of Psycho Doodle is the more superior first take of the song, first released on the Alice album 'Even The Grass Is Full Of Acid' ... and is issued here for the first time on vinyl". For me, that's like somebody who is trying to tell you a story, but starts with "It was really funny... what happened was..." Don't tell me it's funny first, tell it, then I will decide whether it is funny or not. Not in a cold manner, I enjoy being told stories. I do not enjoy being told what my reaction to them should be beforehand, that's all. It's like an unsubtle film-score composer who has bad-guy music and good-guy music, and this-is-the-scary-bit music. I will listen to this version of Psycho Doodle. I will then say how it rates against the previously released version I have. If they had just said something like, "we think this version is better than the previously released one" then there would have been no need for this whole paragraph.
As it happens, the version of Psycho Doodle is better than the one on Even The Grass, all low vocals, bass and organ solos. More menacing in feeling, but the lyrics still suck.
The spoken-word Teardrop was the low point of Even The Grass, and the spoken-word Wizard In The Wood is the low point of Geoffrey Tremaine. It's like a hippy version of Bauhaus's Departure, with glissando guitar. At one point it fades out, then back in, and for no apparent reason. I'm guessing they either removed a particularly cringe-worthy bit of patchouli prose, or were just trying to shorten it a bit. It went on far too long as it was.
In summary: interesting, but not essential.