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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Association: Insight Out


1) Wasn't It A Bit Like Now; 2) On A Quiet Night; 3) We Love Us; 4) When Love Comes To Me; 5) Windy; 6) Re­pu­tation; 7) Never My Love; 8) Happiness; 9) Sometime; 10) Wantin' Ain't Gettin'; 11) Requiem For The Masses.

By the time the band advanced to a major label contract with Warner Bros. and got around to raising their stakes for 1967, Jules Alexander was out — temporarily, at least, «to study medita­tion in India», as some sources claim, and was there ever a trendier moment to study meditation in India than in 1967? The bad news is, this left the band with but one semi-accomplished song­writer. The good news is — the band has always been at its best performing material from fully accomplished outside songwriters. So the loss was quite relative. Plus, they got assigned to the Mamas & Papas' producer, a fairly good match, one must agree.

Not that Terry Kirkman does not try to rise to the challenge. In a way, he even succeeds: 'Wasn't It A Bit Like Now' opens the record on an ambitious note, jamming a somewhat chaotic, rough-edged music-hall ditty inside a deceptive blues-rock framework. You can turn it on, admire the gall of the band for switching to fuzz-drenched heavy riffage, move the needle/cursor to the last seconds, and leave in the same confidence — without ever knowing that the bulk of the song is hanging on a drunken electric piano melody, visions of homemade top hats floating around. In a way, it's a very specific kind of fun.

On the other end of the deep blue sea, Kirkman's 'Requiem For The Masses' may be a bit more than he is able to chew: it does start off with a little bit of requiem music, eventually turning into a «martial folk» memorial tune to the fallen. An anti-war song from someone as nicely «main­stream» as The Association must have been perceived as a brave gesture — one could even sug­gest that it might have served a key role in the band's getting invited to Monterey Pop, had In­sight Out not been released two months after the festival. But for all of the tune's complexity and ambition, it is not very inspiring: the band can pull off the basic structure, but it cannot imbue it with convincing human rights' idealism, certainly not in the context of the previous ten numbers, all considerably wimpy in comparison.

It is the wimpy numbers, however, that have grown and matured quite notably in their wimpiness. P. F. Sloan's 'On A Quiet Night' features gorgeous vocal harmonies, well backed by harpsichord, chimes, and woodwinds, rather than spoilt by strings; the second biggest hit 'Never My Love' is even sappier, but even more tastefully arranged — the vocals enter a subdued, barely audi­ble dia­log with brief electric organ runs, all in an atmosphere of humble intimacy rather than overacting pathos. And these are just the slow-paced ballads!

The album's most recognizable number is, of course, 'Windy', donated to the band by little known folk songwriter Ruth Friedmann. Like 99% of Association-related music, it is pure fluff, but of the highest quality — an ultra-catchy kiddie tune the likes of which they just don't do any more, certainly not with this kind of hard-hitting bassline. Tim Hardin's 'Reputation' is the album's «rock» number, although only the drums seem to be do­ing any «rocking», but it's still a fun version. And what's a 1967 album without at least a little bit of psychedelia? 'Wantin' Ain't Gettin' offers us some sitar, some sarod, choppy guitar rhythms straight outta the Revolver textbook, and droning harmonies a-plenty.

Insight Out may have firmly and finally dispensed with any idea of The Association becoming an «independent» band — both formally, as they complete the sale of their future to the corporate monster, and figuratively, as they lose the incentive to become self-reliant — but for a short time, they would still be out there among the best jumpers on bandwagons; and jumping on bandwa­gons rarely gets any more involving and amusing as it is on the band's third album. Thumbs up.

Check "Insight Out" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Insight Out" (MP3) on Amazon

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