SOMEONE put music journalist and band connections-mapper Pete Frame on speed dial, because the various groovy psych-pop iterations spiralling off from The Wirral’s The Coral are like a Mandelbrot set these days and more than worthy, surely, of one of his fantastic Rock Family Trees.
Besides the sprawling, sea-shanty psych majesty of The Coral themselves, there’s Bill Ryder-Jones, who’s fled the nest and is off welding a Pavementesque guitar aesthetic to a north-west lyrical consciousness, writing soundtracks, taking material back to piano basics; Ian Skelly, whose country-psych second LP we fully approved of; and now The Coral’s current guitar spell-weaver has broken out with his debut under his own moniker, The Fifth Dandelion.
Oh, of course, he also has a thing going with Ian as Serpent Power. And he’s served time in late, lamented, “Valerie”-penning The Zutons. And he was in The Stands. And Big House …
See what I mean? Mr Frame, sir: stick in an order for some draughtsman’s ink, pronto. Please forward postcards detailing any deep-discovered connections out to fellow travellers The La’s, Michael Head and The Stairs addressable to both me and him.
Turning to The Fifth Dandelion; sometimes it is, against popular consideration, wise to judge a book by its cover. Check that beautiful multicoloured psych cartoon artwork, invoking the colour and wonder of the Sgt. Pepper’s era; lost treasures such as the real, London-based Nirvana’s orchestral-psych heart-squeezer The Story of Simon Simopath; Love and Poetry, by Northern Ireland’s sadly overlooked Andwella’s Dream.
Yes, we’re back in an era when tunes were finely wrought, drawing on all of the recently realised tones afforded by the studio palette; that looked back to the round-the-joanna English music hall tradition and at the same time forward, with the blossoming colour of Carnaby Street, and Deram Records, and the summer of lurve. A confident, all-too-quickly passing, hugely creative era of quirky and melodic and superb songcraft.
It’s on record that The Fifth Dandelion was something of a journey, evolving slowly over a two-year span of heavy touring bookended by the loss of both parents. All the more surprising perhaps, that he’s not taken the route of that debut Bon Iver album and plunged into raw reflection, but rather delivered some technicolour and joyous pop.
Let’s unlock the door; let’s begin the quest for that early-summer flower. We’re first presented with a little teaser in the shape of “Phantasmagoria”, a welcoming theme, if you like: guitars semi-toning up through the ominous motif from Holst’s “Mars” as Paul’s voice half-communicates through an anaesthesia of echo and warm guitar shimmer. It’s like you’ve awoken from an opium dream to find yourself in a psych edition of The Addams Family. In orbit. Alone. Set the controls …
Thankfully the eerie suspense dissipates in a second as an alarm clock bell snaps us back to this world, and we slide into the oh-so-English singalong of “Dungaree Day”: sunshine guitar pop chock full of bah-bah-bah backing vocals (and realistically, aren’t they the very best sort?).
It’s a proper old-skool pop rush, of which Paul says: “It came dead quick; it was loads of fun and a real buzz to write. My girlfriend wears dungarees a lot and it was an off-the-cuff thing, she opened her drawer and just said ‘it’s a dungaree day today’ and it just rushed to me as a song.”
You’ll be getting that Ray Davies-Steve Marriott reified knees-up pop classicism; there’s a cheeky percussive skitter, which suggests a long-forgotten uncle who was a dab hand at playing the spoons. Coulda been something back in the skiffle era were it not for bloody National Service. And is that a snatch of “Itchycoo Park” just blipping past my brain? Is that the tiniest snippet of Plastic Ono Band? ELO? Take my advice, you’ll drive yourself mad. Hush now and just relax into the beautiful, referential, reverential psych-pop before thee.
“My Madonna” is a yearn of a tune, Paul’s voice clear and melodic over the piano melody as he offers up his vision of some beauty who takes him “up to the top of the stars / On a twilight ladder”. He’s some damn singer in his own right, you realise. There’s whisky from a fountain in this cosmos where she’s so fine, yes she’s so right.
“The Return of Cherry Pie” has that dockside rag sway of his parent band, playing off 66-67 Kinks. It swings on crisp cymbals and a certain kind of black-and-white kitchen sink drama; of smoke-blackened brick and the last of the steam powered trains. It gives us a springboard for the cosmic glow of “Andromeda”, a space age, ethereal noise-draped stomper with backwards-masked guitars and synthy bubbles cooking down tastily with a string section to bring 2020 and 2120 and summer 1968 together in a glorious fusion.
“Andromeda” and follower “From Venus to Pale Blue” form this gorgeous little space-pop one-two, in which our concerns are groovy and astral. There will be neckerchiefs; there may be paisley. This is the sort of sonically exploratory songwriting I can fold myself inside all day.
“The Swamp” comes over all Port Sunlight via The Big Easy, Paul sat inside a veil of vocal distortion for a downbeat tale of the bayou that ideally needs a grinning skeleton ensemble to perform a macabre vaudeville on badly scratched monochrome film. Your metatarsals will tap and your scapulae, shrug.
“Hey Ho Jack of Diamonds” glides in on mid-period Bunnymen grace and flexes it to a piratical tale. There’s stash in caves, pockets emptied of silver and gold, ghost towns busked. It’s classic character-evocation songwriting with a swooning and theatrical coda, accelerating then into double-time and brass and reverb for a beautiful and sudden update of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch’s dashing, face-masked pop nugget, “The Legend of Xanadu”. Yes. Yes, that is a bloody great thing.
“Salad Days” just seems to drift forward in retro time a little, has bellbottoms, a lightly bluesy sort of piano boogie, maybe ‘71; “Ooh, you don’t listen to me / When I’m talking to you”, serenades Paul over a sonic atmosphere that’s grounded in the twin traditions of that vein of very English songsmithery and that combination of a sunny little ditty couching a bleaker lyrical sentiment.
“Bring In The Night” has crooning beauty and velvety, tremolo guitar lusciousness. It’s seductive and mysterious, a song for night-time intrigue. It’ll wear a suit of immaculate drainpipe cut to the party; it’ll immediately co-opt the mini-skirted bright young things down from Kensington. And Edge Hill, next door.
It plays down towards the album closer, “Talacre Lighthouse” beaming its lonely light in from that little outer-Deeside loop of the Welsh coast. It’s fried nicely off in a little acid, Paul’s vocals deeply treated as an acoustic guitar melody brings a little glitter up top.
And we’re done, and The Fifth Dandelion is as fine a set of psychedelic pop as you’ll find anywhere. It’s west coast, but the west coast of Timebox, not Jefferson Airplane; somewhere in a parallel universe, copies of pretty much every track on here are garnering the deepest praise on psych blogs and in Record Collector, as people seek out that Deram or Pye or Major-Minor mispress of a classic tune you’ll have to cough up hundreds to get near, or find on deep-dive compilations like the Piccadilly Sunshine series, or maybe if you’re lucky in Probe on a hyper-limited single-sided repress.
Thankfully we live this side of the musical quantum wall, and Paul’s The Fifth Dandelion will be released by Spring Heeled Records on digital and vinyl formats this coming Friday, August 21st. Save yourself all that nasty bother of universe-skipping by ordering one here.