What does it sound like?:
Nirvana hold a special place in the history of popular music. They were the first act to be signed to Island Records. Their debut, The Story Of Simon Simopath, produced by Chris Blackwell, is commonly regarded as the first concept album. They are the only pop act to have performed with Salvador Dali, who splashed them with black paint. They were the first to use an electric cello and phasing on their records. Their baroque psychedelic sound, with cello, French horn and harpsichord, attracted enthusiastic involvement from Herbie Flowers, Tony Visconti, Lesley Duncan, Jimmy Miller, Muff Winwood, Sunny and Sue Wheetman (Joe Cocker’s backing vocalists) and Madeline Bell, among others. They also had their name stolen by a successful American group who settled out of court but left them with an additional UK tacked on at the end of their name. The UK part is ironic, since the central duo, Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos, are Irish and Greek respectively.
The Story Of Simon Simopath, originally released in 1967, is an album of child-like wonder, “A Science Fiction Pantomime”, unashamedly escapist with a preposterous story line. Misfit Simon dreams of growing wings but ends up travelling to another planet where he is befriended by a centaur and falls in love with a tiny goddess called Magdalena. For its follow up, the clue is in its full title; The Existence of Chance Is Everything and Nothing While the Greatest Achievement Is the Living of Life, and So Say ALL OF US. It is both a step forwards and a step back conceptually and musically.
The music, though beautifully played and recorded, is light, frothy and very definitely a product of the flower power era. All Of Us is completely oblivious to the gathering darkness of 1968. There are plenty of melodies but so gossamer thin very few stay long in the memory, the title track and biggest hit, Rainbow Chaser, the John Peel favourite, Tiny Goddess, and the DJ Shadow sample, Love Suite, in particular. The Story Of Simon Simopath only lasts 25 minutes, its follow up thirty-four and each of those is quite long enough.
This collection brings together everything Nirvana UK released on Island; two albums, singles, B sides and an additional 27 demos, outtakes and alternative versions, 52 tracks in all. It’s exhausting for the listener, like trying to catch hold of fresh air. This is a set whose effervescence is worn thin by its extras and a lack of real substance at its core. It would definitely be improved by some radical pruning.
Nirvana of the sixties acted as a catalyst. The Island Years contains numerous germs of ideas that others brought to fruition. A curiosity in the world of popular music, it is best approached with caution.
What does it all *mean*?
Sadly, the theory of Nirvana UK is more interesting than the reality.
Goes well with…
A Paisley shirt and wearing flowers in your hair. LSD might help.
Might suit people who like…
Not thinking too hard.