Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5
First off, this is one of the most awesome albums ever. I first picked this up while in high school in the mid 90's as it looked to be a notable freak out and I'd heard the band's name spoken of in reverent tones. Unfortunately, I hadn't even gotten to electric freak outs like 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' yet, and have to admit that I didn't really 'get' this one for years. This is straight up acid-folk, without any electric embellishments. Of our main duo, Mike Heron tends to walk more the Dylan/Donovan continuum, although with his own voice very loud and clear, while Robin Williamson is more like the crazed minstrel hopping out at you from atop a tree in a fog-filled primordial forest (although they admittedly do drift into the other's role on occassion). Both of the excel in writing completely tripped out whimsically British lyrics that make Syd Barrett look like a rank amateur - not that Barrett isn't awesome, but the lyrics of "The Gnome" don't do well when placed next to "The Mad Hatter's Song." Williamson had also recently taken the hippy tour to North African, and sounds from that area abound as well as the sounds of other incredible stringed instruments such as the sitar.
If your ears are open to the folk scene, you'll find this album is packed with absolutely top-notch songwriting. In fact it's far easier to talk about what doesn't quite do it for me. "Blues for the Muse" tries really hard to stretch the 12-bar blues somewhere interesting, but this group still fares much better with the British Isles folk template than the blues. "My Name is Death" take the 'death' concept a bit too literally sonically, and it sort of drags the song down. Although it's only 2:46, it is the longest song on the album (despite some tracks running 5:40 or 4:05 or something; I can type more numbers if you like). Fortunately the list of winners pretty much includes everything else on the album. I particularly dig the first four tracks, "First Girl I Loved," and "You Know What You Could Be." If I ever ran the Renaissance Fair, you'd eat mushrooms instead of a turkey leg, and then you'd listen to this band. There'd also be giant, iron robots there.
Just for a bit of name checking, this set had psych/folk guru Joe Boyd in the producer's chair, and the legendary string bass player Danny Thompson shows up on several tracks. Basically, as far as acid folk goes, this album is setting your rear in the middle of the royal court. And let's just mention that phenomenal album cover one more time. I should get it tattooed on my brain or something. Huh, huh... yeah!