Thee Hypnotics - Righteously Re-charged Box Set

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2018-06-08
Thee Hypnotics - Righteously Re-charged Box Set
Thee Hypnotics - Righteously Re-charged Box Set

I used to see Thee Hypnotics at Reading’s After Dark Club in the late 80s. It was a relatively short trip from their home town of High Wycombe. I found them entertaining but disappointing. Mainly because I wanted them to be another Loop - same clothing and influences but a totally different approach. Thee Hypnotics were much more conventionally Rock’n’Roll. They were peddling the same kind of thing that Primal Scream were at the time. Obviously, Thee Hypnotics pissed all over The Scream, everyone does. Little was I to realise the classic Rock’n’Roll tale that was to follow – drink, drugs, death, divas, disappointment. And all conducted without anyone really paying any attention. And now they’re back and people are paying attention. Could they be the world’s forgotten boys?

The hefty four album compilation that is Righteously Re-charged kicks off with 1990’s Come Down Heavy (unfortunately, Live’r Than God is not included). The sound here is Heavy Psych/Punk, like The Stooges, the MC5 and Blue Cheer. You can see why Mudhoney and Sub Pop liked them so much. Also, the kids could play. Especially Ray Hanson on guitar, adding a bit of Hendrix to the Detroit Punk. Jim Jones is an energetic presence whose voice just needs to get a little bit more ragged at this stage. The album kicks off with two high octane blasters in Half Man Half Boy and All Messed Up before the instrumental Hanson-showcase Unearthed reduces the pace. The MC5 sound is back for Release The Feeling. The seven minute Resurrection Joe is an attempt at a Stones/Doors-style epic that doesn’t quite land. (Let It) Come Down Heavy is more in the vein of Hendrix and Blue Cheer. Hanson drops a Wayne Kramer solo too. Bleeding Heart has more of an up-tempo groove to it, like the MC5’s Back In The USA album. What To Do and Sonic Lament are filler before the nine minute closer, Revolution Stone. The song has a pleasing piano-lead groove but is still below-par Doors (and The Doors are already a below-par Doors). A bit of Free Jazz towards the end does lift it though. Come Down Heavy is a pretty good album. The band are all excellent players. But it is also quite ridiculous, clichéd and they tend to come down on the wrong side of the confident/arrogant line. However, it should be remembered that kids were existing on shit re-issues and mix tapes at the time and we were also young so our perception at the time was not as weary-sounding as my review. Only half of us were playing Spot The Influence. (7).

By the time of 1991’s Soul, Glitter & Sin, the band’s heavy touring was beginning to make them friends. They collaborated with John Leckie and Jimmy Miller and toured with The Black Crowes and The Cult. Immediately, the sound is way better as the riff from Shakedown explodes out of the speakers. There are also more subtle touches to enhance the arrangements. Brass has been added and Jim Jones’ vocal is stronger and better served by the mix. This is the kind of sound that a band of Thee Hypnotics’ skills and ambition deserve. The slower tracks like Kissed By The Flames also land a lot better. Much more atmospheric and Thee Hypnotics have learnt some restraint so they come across as tasteful. The better production also brings out the talents of the rhythm section of Phil Smith on drums and Will Pepper on bass. You can hear why Thee Hypnotics were so lauded by their US peers (The Black Crowes, Mudhoney. Sonic Youth) - The Big Fix is close to Monster Magnet  and Point Blank Mystery is like Mudhoney. But it’s a peers thing rather than the more derivative Come Down Heavy. Soul Accelerator hits like an absolute hammer. The instrumental Black River Shuffle shows an imagination in the arrangement that just wasn’t there before. It is New Orleans Psychedelia, like early Dr John. Cold Blooded Love is going down a similar road to Spiritualized and Jones’ vocal is delightfully frayed. Again, they close the album with something of an epic. However, unlike Revolution Stone on Come Down Heavy, Samedi’s Cookbook never outstays its welcome. It’s another spooky New Orleans/Exile On Main Street affair with Phil Smith on brushes.  I undoubtedly would have been mocking Thee Hypnotics at the time (the air of ridiculous is still there) but, respect where respect is due, Soul, Glitter & Sin is a cracking album that, with the help of John Leckie, matches their ambitions. (9).

By the time of The Very Crystal Speed Machine, Thee Hypnotics were becoming something of a cautionary tale. Hanging out with the Black Crowes (Chris Robinson is the producer), being seen at the Viper Lounge by Johnny Depp and Harry Dean Stanton, they were living the lifestyle to the full. Will Pepper left but had to return when his replacement, Craig Pike, sadly died of a drug overdose. So it was a bruised and battered band that entered the studio with Robinson to a record an album that their label then failed to promote and consequently sold badly. Fortunately, the sound is still great and the band still sound confident. Keep Rollin’ On and Heavy Liquid are fairly incendiary openers. Heavy Liquid is close to Black Sabbath, a real slow and heavy mother. Phil’s Drum Acropolis serves as a breakbeat intro to Goodbye, a Wild Horses-style ballad with, I think, Chris Robinson on backing vocals. It is very Black Crowes – a good band but not a great turn for Thee Hypnotics. Fortunately, Hanson’s guitar is still gnarlier than anything that the Crowes would use. The Crowes feel is there again on If The Good Lord Loves Ya – harmonica, barroom piano, slide, Stones riffs. Ray’s Baudelaire is ridiculous but Caroline Inside Out is the only thing that Thee Hypnotics ever did that was pretty. A lovely ballad with fine work from Will Pepper. It does go a bit Faces at times, but that’s OK-ish. The groovy, rifftastic Thee Hypnotics are back for Tie It Up. Fortunately they hang around for Down In The Hole too. Peasant Song features nice work from Pepper and Smith and is a piano led piece of instrumental Jazz/Psych. Fragile is interesting, it’s almost poppy but I’m not convinced it works. It’s a nice chord progression but intriguing melodies were never Thee Hypnotics’ bag and they opt for a very predictable chorus. Another Stones riff kicks off Look What You’ve Done. It does show off Hanson to be a very nimble guitarist but I prefer him to be more off the chain. Rather than end with a nine minute epic, the album ends with a patchy, organ led instrumental, which is quite telling. Recorded in difficult circumstances but with American Records (initially) behind them, The Very Crystal Speed Machine shows Thee Hypnotics losing a bit of ground and slipping back towards the derivative sounds of Come Down Heavy. I understand that there were ego battles in the studio with Robinson and this may have led to a slight lack of focus. A reasonable album but a step backwards after Soul, Glitter & Sin. After this the band would release one more single for Rocket Recordings (of course) and call it a day in 1999. (7).

The fourth Righteously Re-charged album, In A Trance, is a compilation of 1986 to 1989 singles and Peel Sessions. It disrupts the narrative but, hey, just play it first. It is nice to be blasted by Soul Trader again though. Recorded for John Peel in 1989 it shows how confident the band were before tragedy and disruption distracted them. The whole session is excellent, a great example of what a good live band they were (and probably still are, they’re back and I shall be seeing them support Mudhoney). In A Trance, an early demo is like Spine Of God-era Monster Magnet. Obviously, it’s not a great recording but it’s good fun and a fair indication that the band’s skills were there from the start. Both sides of their debut single are also here, All Night Long (the b-side is first) and it shows an edge that somehow got lost on Come Down Heavy. Love In A Different Vein (the A-side, also on the Peel Session) is a sped up punky version of Loop’s Collision (let’s be fair, it came out the year before Collision) and is awesome. Choose My Own Way (from the Justice In Freedom single) and is similarly energetic. Coast To Coast from the time of Soul, Glitter & Sin sees a slight drop in the energy levels, but In A Trance is a great little compilation. (8).

My problem with Thee Hypnotics is not actually their fault. I just think Rock’n’Roll is stupid. Primal Scream are stupid. The Stones are stupid. The MC5 are stupid. This type of music often requires an Emperor’s New Clothes-like belief in a myth that strips all humour out of music and sometimes makes it a slog for non-believers. There is also a lot of disappointment in listening to Thee Hypnotics as they would miss as often as they would hit. But if they weren’t talented I wouldn’t be disappointed. Soul, Glitter & Sin is something of a forgotten classic that I would recommend to any fans of, yes, Rock’n’Roll. It is flanked by two albums in Come Down Heavy and The Very Crystal Speed Machine that often deliver but also sometimes tend towards the derivative. The In A Trance compilation is a total blast though, but it’s a shame they couldn’t get hold of the excellent Justice In Freedom. All in all, it’s a fascinating tale with frequent high points, especially Soul, Glitter & Sin.

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