Imagine you’re a boy band, circa-1968. Having fallen into a rut of bubblegum pop, three-chord progression, and so many other Monkees-adjacent hackeries, you start to worry that you’ve lost the edge you never quite had in the first place. So, what would Tommy James & The Shondells do? This was the sixties. They took a lot of drugs.
And went to the studio, listened to Revolver and Pet Sounds (and probably also Forever Changes), and tried to make something decidedly offbeat. Crimson and Clover (1969) is awash with that weirdness, underscored by a dazed tension between pop-rock and psychedelia. The title track kicks off this tone, mixing rock tremolo with reverb and distortion– before extending to over five minutes with a back half that loops and warps to an accompaniment of steely, fuzzy, guitar.
That creeping sense of ethereality lingers. The dreamlike “Kathleen McArthur”, with its pastoralism and melodic backing, finds a lax, hazy air, James gawping his vowels with lush abandon. The chaotic, distorted “I’m A Tangerine” is frankly bizarre; how many songs are paeans to the speaker’s troubles being “washed away” by a “friendly, friendly bubble”?
not every song is the malformed fruit of a sky-high mind
Some songs aren’t quite so bold. The radio-ready “Do Something To Me” and “Breakaway” are peppy, rock-y fun, but lack the psychedelic peculiarities found elsewhere. Yet so much of it just gets that sun-swept hangout feel; “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “I’m Alive” span the spectrum from rhythmic soul to acid-rock, but both resonate with a trippy, do-whatever mania.
The album’s ambition can’t quite match up to its reality; not every song is the malformed fruit of a sky-high mind. Still, it’s those bright spots that remain. At its best, Crimson is a portal to the waning days of the hippie dream, a post-Summer of Love memorial that teems with lazy zeitgeist.