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The Pretty Things - S.F. Sorrow CD (album) cover


The Pretty Things



4.15 | 76 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Of all the outstanding British pop rock bands that took the world by storm, it's always surprising when you discover that there were a great number of absolutely brilliant bands that never found much success at all despite crafting some of the best music of all time! THE PRETTY THINGS is one such band from the greater London (Sidcup to be specific) area that never got their just dessert in their day. While the band formed in 1963 and crafted a familiar sounding British rhythm & blues garage rock sound laced with the more psychedelic aspects of a small genre called freakbeat, the band was sort of labeled as a Rolling Stones clone due to the similarity in catchy melodies and a vocal style from lead singer Phil May that did indeed sound a bit like Mick Jagger but to my ears THE PRETTY THINGS were a much superior band in crafting excellent pop rock albums that were consistent all the way through instead of the lopsided ones of the Stones. Who says life is fair?

While not finding a larger audience during their 60s peak, THE PRETTY THINGS have become best known for their fourth album S.F. SORROW which is credited as being one of the very first rock opera albums although it wasn't billed as such upon its release. While it seems the first true rock opera was from the one shot band The Family Tree which released "Miss Butters" in May 1968, that album still remains somewhat of an obscurity whereas S.F. SORROW has gained much more respect over the decades since its initial release. This album that was released in December 1968 seems to have been the primary influence behind The Who's "Tommy" which emerged the very next year although the band has denied any such influences and it is true that "Tommy" was indeed the very first album that was actually released as a rock opera. Nevertheless, S.F. SORROW to my ears is a far superior album as far as unrelenting perfection with one infectious melodic hook after another graced with some of the coolest grooviliscious psychedelic effects.

The story was concocted by lead singer Phil May and the album is structured as a song cycle with the main character Sebastian F. Sorrow experiencing the trials and tribulations of life from birth to death. S.F. SORROW was also quite different from other rock operas that followed in that other albums that followed narrated a tale through the song lyrics whereas this one told much of the story through small paragraphs-sized chapters where appeared in the liner notes of the vinyl LP and later on the CD which alternated with the lyrics of the actual songs. That means this was a true multi-media experience where the visual artwork of the album operated in tandem with the audio performances. While The Beatles upped the art rock ante with 1967's "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club," a legion of new artists quickly adapted an artier approach to their music with THE PRETTY THINGS being one of the more inventive of the era.

The original album consisted of 13 tracks with the opening "S.F. Sorrow Is Born" which immediately sets the stage for an entirely new direction for the band that as recently as the prior 1967 release "Emotions" still found the band to be a decent but still somewhat derivative Stones pop rock band but on S.F. SORROW all those failures of the past had simply transmogrified into sheer musical perfection with a concept that added an entirely new dimension to the music's depth, something fairly new in the world of rock music. Instead of cranking up the volume ever louder, THE PRETTY THINGS learned the art of dynamics and how to alternate softer passages with louder ones for greater effect. Added to that a stellar production job from Norman Smith who had been responsible for The Beatles albums up until 1965 and then moved on to get his feet wet in the burgeoning world of psychedelic rock with Pink Floyd's earliest works.

S.F. SORROW is one of those albums that you hit play and simply cannot opt out until the entire album runs its course. For newer releases on CD this includes the bonus tracks such as "Deflecting Grey" and "Talkin' About The Good Times" which were released as non-album singles, an annoying but common record label policy back in those days. As S.F. SORROW progresses from one track to others, there is an incessant parade of varying percussive beats, infectious melodic grooves directed by the bass playing skills of Wally Waller and interesting guitar leads that break out of nowhere making this one of the first albums i'm aware of that seriously focused on alternating styles, rhythms and dynamics to bring out a tidal wave of emotive reactions. Added to the overall storyline and the instantly addictive melodies, S.F. SORROW also strategically breaks out the psychedelic big guns with trippy organ parts as well as atmospheric extras generated through the mellotron and raga rock appearances of the sitar.

Melodically THE PRETTY THINGS dropped the Stones comparisons and focused more on the rich pop-infused hooks and harmonies of The Beatles coupled with the spacier layers of sound from Pink Floyd. This combo effect was triumphant and the album is literally flawless in its execution both sounding like it was spawned in the late 60s from whence it came yet exudes a timelessness that makes this sound fresh and relevant even in a world when such sugary melodies and easy listening pop music has been tainted with atonality and experimental avant-garde touches. Although i've heard of this album for years i didn't really get into until recently and once i gave it a spin a couple times i was utterly hooked. The album has catapulted up to my top albums of all time due to its irresistible hooks laced with psychedelic brilliance. While THE PRETTY THINGS have many great albums, this is where they hit sheer perfection with the perfect marriage of lyrical content, seductive mellifluousness and psychedelic inventiveness. A true masterpiece of the ages that has finally gotten the recognition it deserves.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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