on 17 October 2011
I don't mean to write this review to knock the 13th Floor Elevators, but to prevent any newbies to psych music from making a disappointing purchase. What you should know is that what was called psychedelic in 1966 is what we today call garage rock. Many disappointed buyers of The Deep's 'Psychedelic Moods' can vouch for this, or of the Blues Magoos' 'Psychedelic Lollipop'. It all changed after Sergeant Pepper - then psych came to mean swirling organs, maybe some sitar, echoey vocals, backwards guitars, and maybe some other studio special effects or exotic instruments. Important too, is that melody came to be important again, while it is secondary in garage rock, which is more about attitude. When I think of classic psych (as opposed to classic garage), in the USA I think of bands like Kaleidoscope, The Tea Company, The Flat Earth Society, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Ultimate Spinach, Moving Sidewalks, Freeborne, Zodiac/Cosmic Sounds, CA Quintet, Gandalf, the Music Emporium, H.P. Lovecraft, The Freak Scene, United States of America, Silver Apples, etc, in the UK and the Continent I think of Twink, Tomorrow, Group 1850, The Outsiders, July, Second Hand, Arthur Brown, Blossom Toes, Eric Burdon, Gary Walker etc. Those are psych bands. The Elevators have nothing in common with any of those, but a lot in common with the typical garage music on the Pebbles collections. They do a kind of non-blues based early hard rock, which I guess is what garage really is. They use regular rock instruments and the 'jug' is the only 'exotic' instrument. However, they overuse the jug. While it would have been OK to use on a couple of tracks, it soon becomes annoying as what is played is exactly the same for each song - the jug keeps on relentlessly, without changing the rhythm or 'notes' it's playing.
To any newbies, don't forget the golden rule of reading reviews of old albums - ALWAYS disregard reviews written by people who were there. That always guarantees that they cannot be objective about the quality of the music. The music has a nostalgic connection then which prevents such people from making an honest judgment about it. It's best to read reviews from people who got into all those bands later, and don't give some band an unfair advantage because of all the warm memories which come flooding back just at the mention of the name. Another factor that makes it hard to comment honestly on this band is that Roky Erikson has long since been a cult figure. Once someone has reached that status, it becomes almost impossible to criticize their work.
I'm not writing this review to annoy old fans of the band, or on the other hand collect brownie points. While I anticipate many negative comments and votes, I'm doing this just to make clear to anyone deciding whether they want to get this album that they must listen closely to those samples before buying. A further point to consider is that International Artists must have had the oldest, most primitive recording technology of the psych era, and their trademark sound is a muddy, mono mess, as can be checked out on the compilation Never Ever Land. The best band they had was Bubble Puppy, with Golden Dawn a close second. The Elevators are classic, a cult band, and pioneers of garage rock, and cleaned up they sound better than ever, but they have nothing in common with the bands listed above, and are a long way from the headswirling psych of the post-Sergeant Pepper era.