Quality: 4 out of 5 (5 for Begin)
Trip-O-Meter: 3.5 out of 5 (4 for Begin)
The Millennium was a short lived project headed by the master sunshine pop producer, Curt Boettcher. This 2001 Sundazed collection includes the Millennium's sole album, Begin (1968), along with the previously unreleased album from one of Boettcher's previous acts, The Ballroom (1966), and some odds and sods from these acts and Sagittarius, a project headed by producer Gary Usher and involving Boettcher's input.
We'll work through this set backwards, as the strongest material here is the Begin album on disc three.
Although the Begin album is Boettcher's baby, it is also very much the work of a functioning band. In fact, the members make up a sort of an obscuro 60's supergroup. Ron Edgar and Doug Rhodes joined in from the Music Machine ("Talk Talk"), and Sandy Salisbury was a holdover from the Ballroom project.
Begin is truly a lost classic that has not yet received it's due. The basic sound of the disc harkens back to Beach Boy Brian Wilson's 1966-1968 productions. In fact, many moments of Begin stand up well to Pet Sounds and surpass the sunshine pop of later Beach Boys albums. Like Wilson's productions, Boettcher, along with co-producer Keith Olsen, created difficult to pick out instrumental combination, and use potential dissonance to create a wall of sound. The band also uses many other sounds, such as raga singing, steel drums, and sound effects, to create amazing atmospherics.
The opening medley of "Prelude" and "To Claudia On Thursday" (the latter of which makes me think of 90's psych poppers The Olivia Tremor Control) reveal production that was state-of-the-art for its time, including compressed drums and full use of stereo range. The tripped out folk sound is similar to The Byrds The Notorious Byrd Brothers (produced by Usher), but to my ears surpass even that enviable achievement. "I Just Want To Be Your Friend," "5 A.M.," and "It's You" all stand out as should-have-been singles, but the full impact of The Millenium can be found in the tracks "The Island" and "Karmic Dream Sequence #1." Both of these songs have stellar hooks, but are far too weird even for singles. "The Island" creates a tropical lysergic sound. The songs seems as much a threat as an invitation. The band pulls out all of the stops for "Karmic Dream Sequence #1." Starting off as a hazy ballad similar to Crosby's songs for The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane, things start to collapse into a wild sound collage, even sampling "Prelude" from the start of the album.
Unlike most sunshine pop concoctions, the lyrical content of Begin holds up to scrutiny. Many tracks, especially "The Island," "It's You," and "There Is Nothing More To Say" have almost a strange cult-like ambiance. As "There Is Nothing More To Say" admits, "There is something that you hear in so many of our songs, but it's something that we want you to know." The album slowly reveals it's spiritual convictions, but the details of their philosophy is never quite ironed out. It's an interesting precursor to the modern psychedelic cult pop of The Polyphonic Spree.
Although this set is worth it for a well remastered Begin, disc two is interesting only as a curiosity. Most of the tracks are demos, instrumentals, or alternate takes of Boettcher's various projects. Of note are the tracks "Milk and Honey" and "Too Young To Marry," which was a more straight forward sunshine pop single produced by Boettcher for the act Summer's Children. There are also a few inferior but interesting versions of Millennium songs recorded by The Ballroom two years before Begin, and a brief sampling of the great Sagittarius.
Disc one serves as the home for The Ballroom's rejected LP. It's a not-bad collection of sunshine pop with a few slight hints of psychedelia. Think of it as a second rate Mamas and Papas. The first two tracks, "Spinning, Spinning, Spinning" and "Love's Fatal Way" are worthwhile am radio style pop, and there is an interesting version of "Would You Like To Go," which Sagittarius later re-recorded. Another Sagittarius track present here is "Musty Dusty" (in fact Sagittarius just used the Ballroom's recording), but this ultra-syrupy ode to childhood was by far my least favorite track on Sgaittarius' Present Tense, and it remains so here.
Just as a fun fact, the cover of this set (which is a slight variation of the Begin cover art) was designed by Arni Geller. Geller's other album art was for the similarly styled, but more colorful Friends by The Beach Boys.
If you haven't already heard it, I can give The Millennium's Begin my highest recommendation. The version here sports much better sound than the Columbia Records CD from the early 90's, but the first two discs here are far from essential. The LP is still occassionally in print (I bought a new copy on vinyl last month) and would be worth seeking out. Still, if you're willing to spend a few more bucks, there are some interesting tracks from the earlier project, and the set serves as a valuable musical history lesson.
The Millennium/The Ballroom- Magic Time