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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Action: Rolled Gold

THE ACTION: ROLLED GOLD (1967-1968; 2002)

1) Come Around; 2) Something To Say; 3) Love Is All; 4) Icarus; 5) Strange Roads; 6) Things You Cannot See; 7) Brain; 8) Look At The View; 9) Climbing Up The Wall; 10) Really Doesn't Matter; 11) I'm A Stranger; 12) Little Boy; 13) Follow Me; 14) In My Dream; 15) In My Dream (demo).

This is one of those few records that factually deserve the title "lost" — a collection of demos as well as quite fully shaped recordings that the Action produced during their final years of exis­tence but never got around to release officially. After rotting in the vaults for decades, they were eventually released in the 1990s, first under the title Brain, then the somewhat flashier Rolled Gold. Those who love the Sixties, but also like their music polished and tend to shy away from raw archive releases, need not worry: Rolled Gold plays very much like a real, completed album, albeit one with slightly lower production values than expected.

This was an important time for The Action — on one hand, they were on the verge of breaking up, but at the same time, they were also trying to throw off the cover-band image and try their hand at original artistry: most or all of these tunes are self-penned and show a certain determination to develop an identity of their own. Unfortunately, they were a bit too late at it. Most of these tracks sound like they belong in late 1966/early 1967, but by late 1967/early 1968 all the Major Artists of the time were already moving away from the good old values of psychedelic Brit-pop, usually making the transgression to symphonic art-rock — or "regressing" towards bluesier or folkier values. So, Rolled Gold ended just a wee bit out of its time.

Today, of course, the dark wide year-long gap between 1966 and 1968 doesn't appear all that dark and all that wide to us any longer, and we have little problem judging the Action's late-period releases on the same scale as, e. g., the Who in their Quick One period. Thus, most responses one is likely to find to Rolled Gold follow the "great lost masterpiece" pattern — since few people other than dedicated Sixties aficionados are liable to be listening to it in the first place.

That may be an exaggeration. First, in terms of "uniqueness of sound", I'd say that the Action's R'n'B covers were fresher and more individualistic. On Rolled Gold, the band basically just jumps on the well-worn psychedelic bandwagon; before that, they had a gimmick of their own that no one else could replicate. Another thing is that, once faced with the task of developing their own songwriting style, they seem to subconsciously transfer their older R'n'B values on it, in that all the songs still share that hyperactive, 'get-up-and-dance' style: everything is loud, ringing guitars, massive drumming, heavy bass, non-stop power-pop, which is great for those who love the style but may be a little tiring for those who prefer some variety (uh, a ballad or two, perhaps?) Third, not all the songs are really well-written, and hooks are frequently sacrificed in favour of adrenaline — nothing unusual about it, of course.

But even so, Rolled Gold is absolutely indispensable for those who love all these things clumped together. Ringing guitars and rushing idealism — how can you beat this? My favourite tracks come right at the end, with 'Follow Me', built on a spiralling, distorted electric riff and rushing off at a much faster tempo than most of the other tracks, faithfully reflecting the invocation in its title; and two versions of 'In My Dream', a delightful combination of the pastoral and the psychedelic, truly worthy of holding its own against all the great acid anthems of its time. But your favourite tracks may be different — when everything sounds so similar, that's where the battle of tastes will always rage the fiercest.

Once it's time for decision-taking, the brain, flattered as it might be that the record's original title alluded to none other than itself, prefers to slight Rolled Gold as a formally successful, but intel­lectually unchallenging response to the times. The heart, however, being a sucker for guitar-driven power pop, overrules the brain with a thumbs up. Masterpiece or no masterpiece, The Action never recorded bad music, and not liking them is the listener's loss, not the authors'.

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