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Fantastic Plastic – Flamin’ Groovies

August 17, 2017

Sonic Kicks / Severn CD 0069

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Reunion LPs don’t work. Think Byrds, Stooges, Big Star. Once the initial spark has been lost, that’s it. So why is this album – the first recordings in 28 years released by the classic Groovies line-up of Cyril Jordan (guitar, vocals). George Alexander (bass) and Chris Wilson (guitar, vocals) – so damn good ?

The last LP made by this iteration of San Francisco veterans was 1979’s Jumpin’ In The Night. Fantastic Plastic is more of the same: a combination of Jordan/Wilson compositions and judiciously chosen covers, here the Beau Brummels Don’t Talk To Strangers and the NRBQs I Want You Bad.  The latter is a long time staple of the Groovies live set: to finally have a studio version is very welcome. Both tracks showcase the timeless sound created by producers Jordan and Joel Jaffe, where the crisp rhythm section of Alexander and principal drummer Victor Penlosa underpins the many layered guitars and vocals of Jordan and Wilson.

Of the originals, opener What The Hell’s Going On is a fine Stones/Beatles hybrid, with Cryin’ Shame adding the Byrds to complete the Groovies holy trinity. End Of The World enters on a bed of backward guitars and develops into a real stomper which should work well live. Let Me Rock is allegedly the first song that Cyril and Chris wrote together and here it is completely upgraded from the rough demo first heard on the Skydog Grease tapes, although thankfully the Street Fighting Man bass runs remain. Lonely Hearts adds a simple piano part and additional harmonies to provide an uptempo Beach Boys ballad.

Even though this is a proper length recording – 12 tracks, 40 minutes – the album slightly runs out of puff with Crazy Macy, Just Like A Hurricane (aka Let’s Work Together) and Fallen Star being less inspired. I’d Rather Spend My Time With You is a rather unexpected instrumental in a Shadows / Ventures vein, recorded with Tubes drummer Prairie Prince and producer-archivist Alec Palao.

Accompanying the release of this recording is the news that George Alexander is no longer a member of the band he has played with since 1965. Victor Penlosa too is no more. The new rhythm section of Chris Von Sneidern (bass) and Tony Sales (drums) will have a chance to show their mettle on September’s European tour but George and Victor brought a lot to the live show and they will be missed.

There is an understandable tendency to overrate the results achieved by a favourite band getting back together again (hence all the great reviews for Blue And Lonesome). I have only lived with this recording for a few days and I might regret giving it such a good review in six months time. But for now Fantastic Plastic is the exception to the rule – a reunion LP that does not disappoint. Will 2017 be the year of the Groovies ?

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