Various Artists - The Magical Mystery Psych Out - A Tribute to The Beatles

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7.5 Release Date:2015-03-03

There was a time when it seemed that Cleopatra would put out a tribute album to just about everyone you ever heard of, from Weezer, Prince, Tool, and Depeche Mode to The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Queen, Korn, Sisters of Mercy, Slayer, Madonna, and Van Halen. Heck, I even picked up their 'tributes' to Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, New Order, and Cocteau Twins. They even released a tribute to Edgar Allen Poe. So clearly they’re covering all the bases as an equal opportunity tribute label. Some of their boxsets (Gothic Rock, Space Daze, Punk Goes Metal) are pretty cool and lots of fun as well.

But this? Well, this just about sets a new standard for tribute albums by combining familiar songs with up-and-coming new psych bands that deserve to be heard. And if this is the best way to spread the word about the state of the current pysch scene, then I’m on board.

As with most of their releases, the artist selection is equal parts Cleopatra stable in-house bands and “who the hell are they” – often both of the above at once. But here I actually recognize and have enjoyed previous releases from The KVB, Lucid Dream, Electric Moon, Strangers Family Band, and the incredible Japanese psych warriors, Kikagaku Moyo (a mesmerising, brainshattering 'Helter Skelter' that comes off like a cross between The Heads and Sonic Youth).

Things begin as they should with the Fab Four’s most psychedelic track, 'Tomorrow Never Knows', presented here in a headswirling haze of purpleness by uber-prolific German psych krautrockers Electric Moon. You could end here and we’d have a (ahem) highly recommended release. But wait, there’s much more.

Twee-pop psychers Sugar Candy Mountain add all the right accoutrements (reverb, reverse-phased vocals and guitars, etc) to 'Rain'; The Lucid Dream work wonders with a straightforward pop-psych reading of 'And I Love Her'; The Blank Tapes deliver a funky, James Brownish treatment of 'The Word', and Puerto Rico’s finest psych band, Fantasmes, press all the right buttons with their sitar-drenched 'Love You To'. If Anton Newcomb and The Brian Jonestown Massacre were invited to contribute, it might sound like this.

Alas, as is typical with these scattershot releases, not everything is gonna work. I don’t know what The Ruby Suns were hoping to accomplish by turning 'Martha My Dear' into some type of power-pop ballad full of all sort-of-elaborate sound-effects and twee harmonies. Imagine The Residents tackling the Lennon/McCartney songbook and this is close. Might intrigue you, but I’m heading for the skip button.

The Underground Youth’s somnambulistic take on 'Come Together' just doesn’t work for me, either. Cleopatra has always worshipped at the altar of electronic goth but this style just doesn’t mesh with the mop-toppers' original weirdness. Besides, I thought this was supposed to be a psych tribute to The Beatles. A Darkwave Goth Tribute to The Beatles doesn’t sound as inviting and this is why.

The usually reliable Strangers Family Band drool all over themselves with a terrible junkie nod-off trying to make it through 'Sun King'. It sounds like they didn’t even try to come up with anything original and barely make it through the song without falling asleep and crashing into their drum-kit. Not cool, dudes.

Luckily The KVB’s darkwave, electro-Doorsy groove permeates 'Taxman' and may have you forgetting all about Paul Weller’s thinly-veiled attempt to appropriate Harrison’s riff as his own (cf 'Start' on Sound Affects). Still, there is a sense of a lost opportunity at work here. It would have been nice to turn today’s best and brightest psych bands loose on The Beatles’ psychedelic discography and see what the kids could do with obvious choices like 'Strawberry Fields Forever', 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds', 'She Said, She Said', 'I Am the Walrus', et al.

Trying to make 'Cry Baby Cry' and 'Martha My Dear' fit into your psychedelic framework doesn’t gel. Oh, and for an album that cops that Beatles title, psych renditions of anything off Magical Mystery Tour are conspicuous in their absence.

Finally, this appears to be the latest in Cleopatra’s 'psych tributes to the masters' series, following on from recent sets of Doors and Stones covers. So if you’re a fan of those offerings, jump right in and add this to your collection. If not, check it out anyway to hear some of today’s best international psych bends strut their stuff. See – tribute albums aren’t all that bad!

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