Deep Grooves: The Pretty Things – Balboa Island (Zoho Roots)

To give you a little insight as to how long this legendary band has been plying their musical trade, the band began in 1962 and founded by Dick Taylor and Phil May, bandmembers who were kicked out of The Rolling Stones for being too ugly. If that isn’t hard enough to believe (after all, who’s could be uglier than The Rolling Stones? I mean, pick one, they’re all pretty hideous. Then and now.) check this out: like the Stones, the band pretty much has the same membership now as when they started all those years ago. For those who have never heard of the band, their story is simply incredible, and if I had a book’s worth of space, I’d tell you tales about the band’s exploits that would make you think the Stones were churchgoers.

But enough with sidetrips and sidetracks, this album is the thing. And an exciting thing it is.

It’s genesis was almost four years ago, and this project has been frought with false starts, member defections, and bitter feelings almost from the beginning and the original recordings for this album were abandoned halfway through as not being representative of the band’s vision. Shattered, the remnants of the band reverted back to the blues they fell in love with in the dawn of their careers back in 1963. Returning to their first musical love, the band once again built themselves from the bedrock up, remembering what it was that made them musicians in the first place and why they would sacrifice their lives and sanity to scrape pick against string and swat stick against drum to begin with. The blues having found them again (or they having found the blues), the band feverishly resumed work on their new album Balboa Island, hoping to once again catch lightning in a bottle as they had throughout their careers time after time as people would count them out.

After classic records like S.F. Sorrow (the first rock opera – take that, Townshend!) and Parachute (one of Rolling Stone magazine’s first great reviews at the dawn of the ’70’s), what can one expect of this group that has done just about everything and still manages to remain banned for Austrailia and New Zealand this long into their rock and roll career? Just the darkest, bluesiest, most compelling album of their career, that’s all! That singer Phil May can still yowl like a junkyard dog and guitarist Dick Taylor can still play a grindingly sleazy solo that’ll make your guts churn and ears bleed gives you hope for your own life. What right do these near pensioners have to sound so damn good? And don’t bring up the Rolling Stones because as much as I love them, their live sound (and studio work) has sounded limp for years, and nowhere near as vital as this album. The Pretties vary it up a little here as well, bringing their acoustic guitars out for some tunes as well. You don’t need slicing electric wailing to conjure up some deep blues, but it doesn’t hurt as when the Pretties do plug in and do their rocking hurricane thang, it rock like little else. Would Led Zepplein had made the band their first ever signing to Zep’s Swan Song label if they couldn’t wail? I don’t think Jimmy Page is a jealous man, but I think he knows Taylor has kept the feeling whereas Page has let the blues slide on by. Every cut on this album screams blues, and scream is the best word to use, too. Simply impressive as hell.

Those who like blistering blues-rock ala The Stones and bands of their ilk, will simply love this as it kicks those bands’ asses. This music could have been the stuff of legend if only the world was a little different. Imagine a world where radio played music with true soul and heart to it and the music business actually cared if people were listening to, let alone buying their product. That music was never referred to as product at all, even, that it would be considered art and the people who made it artists and subsequently created work worthy of the appellation. Regardless of all that, this may be the best album these old bluesy bastards have ever created. Deep, dark, doomed and deliberate – the devil’s music capturing them and ultimately you and I in a warm embrace where Robert Johnson, James Brown, Big Maybelle and Howlin’ Wolf reside. And don’t forget Muddy, because the Pretty Things sure haven’t. My God, am I a fool? A fool for liking this damned dirty blues so fucking much? If I am, fuck it. The same blues still coursing through their veins courses through mine, still pumping despite youth falling away a while ago, for all of us. But age aint nothing that a chord change can’t cure. And the blues has three of the most despicable, dirty, damaged, and beautiful motherfucking chords heaven ever laid down on us. And I love each one of them. And the Pretty Things too. And if you don’t? Well, I ain’t got no use for you at all, pussy.

Scott