The Bevis Frond - Bevis Through The Looking Glass: The Great Magnet Disaster

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2017-08-25

Originals of the rarest item in the Bevis Frond catalogue go for nearly £200, so this fourth reissue will please newbies with pockets that don’t scrape the pavement. When Reckless began the first series of Bevis Frond reissues back in 1988, they spread most of these tracks across the CD versions, which is where I first heard them. So to me this always seemed like a hodgepodge collection of leftovers from the official albums that spent most of their lives as fillers/bonus tracks. Saloman confirms this in his ‘Intro’, wherein he welcomes listeners to “the first official Bevis Frond Outtakes Album”.) In fact, Saloman’s original liners even note that two tracks (‘Rat In A Waistcoat’ and ‘In Another Year’) were dropped from his debut (Miasma) at the last minute. They also nearly never made it this far, as a speaker magnet accidentally (Nick calls it “demagnetisationmisology”) erased the original masters (hence the album’s punny subtitle) and he cobbled the original release from a cassette backup of “rough mixes”. (Saloman also tongue-in-cheekily gave the release a catalogue number of WOO 005½ to note it’s halfbreed beginnings!) So we will never know how they were supposed to sound, but this remastered version cleans up the homegrown, bedroom recording vibe for general consumption. Also, from all accounts, the clever collectible (and supposedly fake) “Woronzow Rare Records List” included in the original has not been revived.

Right off the bat, it’s batshit time: the cacophonous mess of ‘1970 Home Improvements’, 14 minutes of extraneous noodling with his organ, fiddling with his guitar strings and generally dragging shit around the room with a microphone turned on. Great for Faust and Kemialliset Ystävät, but not quite what we were expecting. But after a few unnerving minutes, we get the ol’ Nick back with his trusty six string waxing poetically in a rambling organ/guitar interplay, all buoyed by his trademark crap drum kit – as tinny and flat as ever. Nick peppered all his early albums with this stuff and still has fans who prefer it to his more structured rock and pop songs. I am not one of them.

‘Now You Know’ is a gem of a pop tune: melodic as hell, dirty and fuzzy in all its no-fi glory. The sidelong 20-minute epic ‘The Shrine’ was a revelation when I first heard it on one of the aforementioned Reckless CD reissues and it still remains one of the crowning glories of Nick’s massive catalogue. It’s everything the disappointing wankoffs are not: structured, mysterious, haunting, psychedelic, and possessing one of his greatest solos; two if you count the hallucinatory organ serpentining throughout! It ebbs and flows, teases with treated vocals, a fuzzbox, and a Crowleian lyric that coaxes alchemy out of a little room and also walks us through the seven days of creation for good measure. I think there’s a picture of “the shrine” in the dictionary under “Brainfrying”.

The “outtakes” vibe continues throughout the rest of the album, from the wild mix of goofy voices and showoff, finger-shredding solos on ‘Rat In A Waistcoat’ (wisely left off Miasma) and the schizophrenic acoustic/metallic ‘Mudman’ on one hand to the soft, nostalgic, pretty ‘In Another Year’ and the gorgeous, floating instro ‘Song For The Sky’, one of his greatest compositions. A rare cover (of Saloman guitar hero Tony “Tough Shit” McGee’s Groundhogs classic ‘Express Man’) is given a muddy, prototpunky, Motörheady reading that serves as an excuse for more six-string madness, as does the interminable 8+ minutes of ‘Purtle Sline’.

Finally, the longtime favourite ‘I Can’t Get Into Your Scene’ demonstrates Saloman’s punky leanings and ‘Soot’ hints at Booker T on steroids. The set closes with one of Saloman’s earliest recordings, ‘Alistair Jones’ that, even at 14 and despite the obvious Syd Barrett influences, shows the kid’s got a gift for melody and insightful lyrics, and could, in Ian Hunter’s immortal words ‘be somebody someday”.

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