The Pretty Things -‘So Low Beneath a Laser Sun’- The 1970 Album Parachute

by | Apr 18, 2015 | 2 comments


 
Spinning out an imposing psychedelic vibe in the ‘rock room’ today is a
somewhat forgotten record in the annals of classic rock.
The Pretty Things started out a rough and ready blues band in the mid 60’s and by the 1970 had become a
growling multicolored hallucinatory beast. The band is responsible for the first thematic ‘rock opera’ (S.F. Sorrow ) as well as being the group who commandeered Beatles engineer
Norman Smith for their own recordings. They reached the lofty heights of their musical
summit with the subject of this rant, 1970’s Parachute.
Recorded at Abbey Road studios in 1969 the LP contains a
familiar and successful ambiance. Pop songwriting mingles with syrupy blues figures and
all out psychotropic explorations. The LP f*cks with your head, guitars
disengage and then reconfigure, strange sounds slither through the prismatic stereo image
and the vocals by Phil May range from  soft and comforting to a raging pissed off punk. The
first side of the LP plays as one piece, each song segues into the next, musical
reflections gleam off of sparkling folk melodies which then morph into shady all out consciousness
assaults. The lineup for this fifth album in their discography is as follows,
Phil May (Vocals), Wally Waller (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), Jon Povey (Keyboards),
Skip Allan (Drums) and Vic Unitt (Guitars). 
The band recovered nicely after founding member and songwriter/bassist
Dick Taylor and drummer Twink left the group for greener pastures. Both May and
Waller took up all of the compositional jobs creating a cohesive LP that speaks
to the ‘Hippy’ generation about their ideals yet warns them about the
encroaching darkness from a world hell bent on development and mind control.
The strange cover of the LP illustrates this with a flower emerging from roadside
concrete while surrounded by a menacing red sky. A human constructed spire rises from the
other side of the dividing road as a spectral child looks one hand extended.
My needle descends and caresses the grooves urging from out
of aural darkness a shimmering rumble wave of sound emerging and suddenly segueing into a
flashing and stereo manipulated acoustic strumming. With my ears slightly spun
, Allan’s drums tumble into the  jagged
jerky and aggressive prelude of ‘Scene One’. The song slams against the walls of
a padded room before stopping suddenly and falling backwards into the comfy cotton
thump of ‘Good Mr. Square’. This track elicits a lost White Album song; the Abbey Road Studio walls suit this one well.
Thick thumbed bass lines and a clean acoustic shading, decorate around the edges of Povey’s
space minstrel key striking.  

‘Mr. Square’ segues into and out of ‘She Was Tall She Was High’
which acts more as an addendum to the ‘Mr. Square’s verses than a separate song. Glory hound vocals sound while the chunky guitars proceed chop
the chorus into tiny bits.‘In the Square’
begins soon after, emerging from empty mist, straining to see a diluted and mystical woman
muse. A drumless melody drifts and Phil May’s vocals are a gentle paisley,
glistening like a night time beacon appearing from the expanse of a distant sea shore. Its silvery simplicity and circular music box melody expresses a
dreaming hopefulness, but still in the back of its mind a questioning
apprehension. Is the song a hallucination? The song moans on without drums, its subject looking, before segueing oddly
through a vocal line into the next song, this being ‘The Letter’. 
 
A groovy descending lick,
cheerfully buoyant and deftly arranged. The song is a spring time whistle as May opens his post box excitedly, his
anticipation tangible.The song retains a nervousness when the frizzed
out guitar enters and echoes the slowly developing melody back in a distorted reflection.
The song dissipates quickly into a tunnel and appears from
the other side donning the acoustic opening sprinkling of ‘Rain’. Soulful and funky ‘Rain’
takes up where the ‘The Letter’ left off thematically. Musically, the now serrated rhythm tumbles like black storm clouds over dark hills.
After a mellow beginning, electricity surges into the albums bones, the current
transported by the slick wires coated by ‘The Rain’. Unitt’s concluding solo pours, streaming out of a formless vessel. The song then develops into
a choral mantra and a run for cover lineup
of tightly coiled  Vic Unitt guitar
licks the fade into the horizon. The sound
of a storm passes, before the music jumps into the chugging and smoky psychedelic bed of
Mrs. Fay Regrets. The song is a day-glo proto punk painting, a road song for
the traveler who gave up long ago. Featuring what I feel is the best riff of
the LP, bass and angry guitar pass a suprise late night sobriety test then return to the
car chuckling. 
‘Cry’s From the Midnight Circus’ closes side one and harkens back to their Dick Taylor
early influence with a gritty gravel blues lick. The aural mix of this tune is a prismatic, transparent and
heavily hallucinatory. Guitar swells pass like late night street signs leaving
trails in their sonic wake. The  mid song
organ solo spits a thick musical sickness over the schizophrenic blues. Is it
a distorted vocal solo, tweaked out organ, or an alien
communication? The verse reappears scattered amongst razor slices of guitar that
drowned out the weary street harmonica that emerges from the undulating musical
mists. This tune is a definitive example of pure undiluted psychedelia from the
tap. Drink up, this one is a rock room favorite and an obvious must hear classic.
A circular jam develops toward the tail of the track, Unitt and Waller take the
song around an atonal turn and behind the circus tent as freaky eyes glance
over  shoulders before quickly looking away.
Tension develops and the makeup of a broken clown drips into rich colors onto
the dirty ground.  The jam is representative of a
musical strangulation and could continue on, but oddly fades to black even as
the band continues to make pointed glitter bombs with their strings.
Regardless, this is a highpoint of the record and a must hear for rock fans of
the 1960’s-1970’s examples of tripped out blues.
 

The record is flipped and side two sprouts. The song ‘Grass’ is the  perfect prelude to the insanity to follow. Fingers are laced and hands are behind the head lying
in the ‘Grass’ while counting clouds. The groove asserted is comprised of the soft
wax of bees, sweet and thick. I visualize an earth angel, a theme that
continues to reach my mind’s eye throughout the listen. She cries out as her spiritual life forest is paved over by the heaviness of the metropolitan surge. The
song approaches a sneaky dual guitar solo where smoothed string snakes rest
clandestine under the cool shadow of the willow. The muted tone of the expressive
instrumentation is comforting, yet slightly menacing. The second solo turn increases
the charge while a green organ lays a thin layer of veneer beneath the groove.

An audio verite’ count off begins the stubborn march of
‘Sickle Clowns’ which because of its insistent driving groove stays remarkably tightened down until stripped. The curved edge of Unitt’s guitar
tone cuts so deep and perfect there is no pain just the clean flow of blood.
The spherical groove does not deviate from its mission, it only encourages
musical mind travel through its persistence. After an extended quivering arrow
of a guitar solo in flight, the sharpened strings drop out of sight and the
throbbing percussion appears in full tribal motion. Momentum is continued,
built and released and when the vocals return both hands of the clock are meshing
at the correct time. May growls the lyrics, tearing flesh, ornery, telling the
tale of the endangered rock and rollers, down by the lake gathered around a
defiant fire. Eventually they must be eliminated. Heavy duty and what the
Pretty’s were all about, this track is summed up in the extended jamming and
originality of the lyrical premise.
 
The diverse and druggy ‘She’s A lover’ is erected in three part
watery chorused guitars. The song is musically squirrely as it bounds from
branch to branch unsure, before engaging in a mid song guitar dual played
against broken door waltz figure. The track spreads like differing colors of
paint just touching on a creator’s pallet, just blending shades and blurring
lines enough. The tune finallt coagulates around a rubber ball guitar lick and a
flashlight keyboard figure that keeps things sufficiently strange yet glued
together. The falsetto choruses are additionally enveloped in deep blue fuzz
licks from the overdubbed guitars which add an additional layer of intrigue.
‘What’s the Use’ follows and swings like a back porch sing-along
in Andromeda and fits well in the LP’s flow while acting in perfect contract to its respective
partners on side two.Byrd’ like bell guitars
chime in thumping time before the songs Skip Spence recitation of the chorus skips into a repetition. A strange song, a tale of of resignation, that keeping with the
developed theme of the record shows off its diverse production and willingness to experiment,
lending to a genre smushed expression of music.
A tinkling lounge piano
drips off of the table and onto the empty floor. The title track of the album Parachute concludes the LP with a bass
and guitar backing that focuses on the milky three part harmonies. A melody
that elicits leaving, the groove has a Pink Floyd personality trait that is magnified
as the drums enter. The song slowly drifts to the surface, a witness to decay and wonder.
Each instrument approaches the concluding destination of the album, given a
part to play, writing a final line to the story. The songs final note is played,
a star red siren that expands its pitch, rising higher and higher until it is only
audible to the ears of a canine and then reaches such a height it has no choice
but to melt into black and the run out grooves of the album.
Parachute does
tell a story, it’s a tale that is as complex as the music used to disseminate
the idea. The recording has received accolades and notice, but it still
remains hidden behind the era’s substantial volumes made by the Beatles, Pink Floyd
and other contemporaries of the band.  The group’s 1968 LP S.F. Sorrow was not made in a vacuum, it was the beginning of a
highly creative period of music making by a band that had even changed out some of its vital
members. The album has since been reissued and is available with a host of
outtakes for those who want a bigger aural picture of the sessions that birthed this masterpiece. Take the leap, the Parachute is sure to open.

2 Comments

  1. Joe Kenney

    Hi, love your blog. Just discovered it yesterday and have been reading through it all day. I too love this album and rank it among my very favorites. However, I hate to be that guy, but I just wanted to let you know that Parachute was never ranked as the album of the year by Rolling Stone. I have the Rolling Stone Cover To Cover CD rom, which allows you to search through every issue of the magazine from the 1st one up through 2007. The Pretty Things did not even get mentioned until the release of Silk Torpedo in 1975. So, Parachute was not even reviewed, let alone ranked as album of the year. Not sure where that urban legend came from. There is a possibility that there was a British version of Rolling Stone which ranked Parachute so highly, but I have never found confirmation of that. But yeah, this might be one of my top favorite albums ever. I've got it on the double vinyl compilation Real Pretty, released on the Rare Earth label in 1975 with SF Sorrow on the first disk.

    Reply
  2. talkfromtherockroom

    Hi Joe,

    Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments! I have updated the review. Sorry for the delay in responding!!

    Reply

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