Quality: 5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5
A full-length rock opera that predates the Who's Tommy, S.F. Sorrow is also a prime slice of British psychedelia that works just as well as the best of the early Pink Floyd, or psychedelic-era Beatles or Stones. In fact, this album is a third sibling to the better known Sgt. Pepper's and Pink Floyd's debut. These tracks were recorded at Abbey Road studios around the same time, with Beatles engineer Norman Smith serving as producer. The Pretty Things were a grungier, R&B sweating group, however, and this is by far the crunchiest of the three albums. Fortunately for you psychonauts out there, this is not at the expense of great songwriting and psychedelic flourishes. The lyric aren't quite as transcendent as the best of Bob Dylan and John Lennon, but they are good enough to be a reference copy for tripped out 60's psychedelic lyrics. As far as the rock opera story goes, I have no idea what the hell is supposed to be going on, but just as on Tommy, it doesn't really mater when the songs are this good.
There is no lack of phenomenal songs on this recording. While the opening track is very good, the creepy chanting vibe of "Bracelet of Fingers" is the first sign of perfection. It like the ghosts of the 1967 Beach Boys alternating with a whimsical Syd Barrett punch. I'm also a big fan of the insistent beat and sound effects of "Balloon Burning." My favorite thing here, though, is "Baron Saturday," which somehow sounds like a mid-70's Bowie track on the verses, while vocalist Phil May does a dead-on Lennon impression on the majestically psychedelic chorus. We also get a wall of delayed, Sun Ra-like percussion and short trip into an acid-fried happy land before blasting back into the chorus. Great stuff! For the big finally, there's a bit of full-blown, proto heavy metal on "Old Man Going." An amazing thing about this album is how often the Pretty Things managed to anticipate future styles of music. And before we move on, let me give a quick shout out to the criminally underrated guitarist Dick Taylor, who rattles off one awesome lead after another throughout the album.
We have a few fine bonus tracks here, but I'd be remiss not to address "Defecting Grey." This was a single, presented here in an unedited, five minute version. It's one of the best 60's psychedelic singles, period. It juxtaposes wildly demented psychedelic music hall sounds with wild acid rock rave-ups and pop bridge sections and ties it all together with noise and entertainingly jarring shifts. It's sort of like scanning through the 1967 radio dial from beyond the psychedelic curtain.
Like the other psychedelic Abbey Road albums, the mono mix is by far the superior mix. The stereo suffers from ridiculous stereo panning that dilutes the power of the band and a lack of skill in creating a proper psychedelic soundfield. Chances are a fair amount of you reading this are already perfectly familiar with this album, but it always a nice disc to revisit. If you haven't heard this, you're in for quite a treat - this could be your new favorite album.