Forerunners (and side-runners) of the acid-house movement, Aberdeen’s neo-psychedelic Shamen trip back to the spacey side of 1967 British rock with scrappy production, tremolo guitars, whining mellotrons and echoed vocals, suggesting 1967 Who, 1968 Pink Floyd, the Move, Tomorrow and others without specifically quoting anyone. Except for a few songs that lean towards less colorful folk-rock and aren’t as bewitching, Drop is adventurous and entertaining stuff that easily outclasses most neo-psychedelic wannabes with abundant invention and élan. In a brilliant piece of unintentional subversion, a Scottish brewery — completely missing the song’s lyrical intent — chose the LP’s “Happy Days” (an ironic protest against the Falklands War) for use in a massive TV ad campaign. The US edition of Drop removes “Do What You Will” and “The Other Side,” adding “Strange Days Dream.”
Undoubtedly affected by the late-’80s doings in Manchester, the Shamen adopted a stronger rhythmic stance on What’s Going Down? With a nod to hip-hop electronics, the group builds a devastating beat under the Carnaby Street vocals and squiggly guitar noise of “Christopher Mayhew Says,” while “Knature of a Girl” adopts the now-standard stutter shuffle of countless rave records, and “Shitting on Britain” finds an exciting midpoint. Rounding off the 12-inch, there’s the boring title song, a crazed cover of the 13th Floor Elevators’ (by way of Television) “Fire Engine” and a remake of “Happy Days.”
The Italian-only Strange Day Dreams compilation is brilliant, offering a complete view of the group’s best work. The program includes Drop‘s “Something About You” and “Do What You Will,” a live “Strange Days Dream,” retitled remixes of two What’s Going Down? cuts (one augmented, the other dismantled), “Fire Engine,” three atmospheric Syd Barrett covers (two of them from the 1986 EP, which also contained a pair of Drop previews and the original “Strange Days Dream”) and “Grim Reaper of Love.” Especially in light of the Shamen’s disappointing subsequent adventures, this is the LP to own.
Following many of their English psychedelic counterparts from A(cid) to E(cstasy) — a name mentioned more than once on the album — the Shamen reoriented themselves to play simplified dance rock on the pointedly political but boringly de-Shamenized In Gorbachev We Trust. (The cover shot of the Soviet leader in a crown of thorns is genius.) “Adam Strange” and, to a lesser degree, “Raspberry Infundibulum” stick to the band’s familiar backwards-guitar rock guns, but the rest of the sparsely furnished album (including an unrecognizable house cover of the Monkees’ “Sweet Young Thing”) amounts to electronic percussion, bass, vocals, spoken word actualities and sound effects. Deconstructing the music allows lyrics to come through clearly, however, and that’s a boon, especially on the anti-nuclear “War Prayer.” (The CD and cassette have extra tracks.)
The 10-inch Phorward (initially packaged with a bonus 7-inch) completes the Shamen’s devolution: the six new songs are stark, monotonous clatters of synth drums and chanted vocals…music for leaving the room.