It took the Mighty Lemon Drops (initially the Sherbert Monsters) three albums to fully outgrow its original fixation on Echo and the Bunnymen. While hardly a disqualifying attribute in itself, the sonic resemblance initially made it hard to take the enjoyable young quartet from Wolverhampton seriously.
Happy Head offers the neo-psychedelia of early Echo played with a ringing Rickenbacker as the lead instrument and a less mannered (and less interesting) vocalist. That’s not to take anything away from the band’s intensity and dynamic mood shifts, but it’s hard to hear the album without making the connection. That said, there’s at least a side’s worth of first-rate songs here, and the uncluttered, stripped-down approach is distinctive enough to recommend it to anyone who likes this sort of thing.
Out of Hand, an eight-cut hodgepodge comprising energetic but unrevelatory live versions of three of Happy Head‘s better songs and some new studio cuts that add string synthesizers and Eastern flavoring (shades of the Bunnymen, circa “The Cutter”!) to the brew, is for fans only. It has the feel of “product” put out to coincide with a tour or something. (The Happy Head CD also contains Out of Hand.)
World Without End, warmly produced by Tim Palmer, is a more mature, sophisticated and individualized effort, but Paul Marsh still sings as if he’s trying to impress either Ian McCulloch or Jim Morrison. The CD adds “Shine”; the subsequent EP draws its title track from the album.
The departure of original bassist/co-writer Tony Linehan in the early stages of Laughter (he appears on two cuts) left guitarist David Newton (a former member of the Wild Flowers) to come up with nearly all the material on his own. He did, and that was all it took to finally disconnect the band from its original impulses; the accent on Laughter is in line with the psychedelically tinged pop joy of Stone Roses’ debut, released in the same year. Intricately overdubbed vocal arrangements, excellent guitar playing and impossibly catchy choruses make every long song a rich, cleverly sustained delight. “Into the Heart of Love,” “Where Do We Go From Heaven,” “Second Time Around” and “The Real World” (doubtlessly a nod to Peter Gabriel’s studio, where the album was recorded, rather than the future MTV show) are not so much standouts as simply the most instantly memorable items of an altogether great album which remains by far the band’s best. (The CD adds “Rumbletrain?,” a British B-side.)
Sound… finds the Mighty Lemon Drops blowing in the stylistic breeze to drift uncertainly down a rockier, semi-danceable cobblestone path. (It may be worth noting, if there’s a thesis to be mounted here, that Newton came up with half the songs himself and the rest in collaboration with various permutations of the group and producer Andy Paley; his unaided creations tend to be more purely pop- directed.) Stumbling through faint stabs at blues, beat-era rock’n’roll and ravedelia, the group sounds lost and bored, a plight exacerbated by the dire production, which is not only flat and sloppy but inconsistent at that. The album comes to life in fits and starts — coughing up “Big Surprise,” “Annabelle” and “Unkind” as a cruel reminder of Laughter‘s virtues — but is otherwise a cheerless drag.
The solemn faces pictured, and the Newtonian songwriting credits listed, on Ricochet suggest a chastened combo determined not to botch another album. What’s in the grooves confirms a safe, solid return — to the careful, clearly detailed sound of Manchester acid-pop. Atmospheric layers of echoey vocals and distorted guitars invigorate nicely shaped songs — alternately lazy and soaring — that make do without Laughter‘s wide- eyed innocence yet still manage an encouraging romanticism. Dreamy guest vocals by Susie Hug on “Nothing” and “Falling Deep” (which she co-wrote with Newton) are a big plus, as are the occasional keyboard intrusions by sessioneer John Barry Douce. Nice one.
All the Way is a strange appendix: a 1990 live recording from Cincinnati mixed with a handful of 1986 demos.