THE ASSOCIATION: WATERBEDS IN TRINIDAD! (1972)
1) Silent Song Thru The Land; 2) Darling Be Home Soon; 3) Midnight Wind; 4) Come The Fall; 5) Kicking The Gong Around; 6) Rainbows Bent; 7) Snow Queen; 8) Indian Wells Woman; 9) Please Don't Go; 10) Little Road And A Stone To Roll.
I have no idea what the title is supposed to mean, nor its possible connection with the snow-covered photo on the front cover. Probably just an absurdist gimmick to give the buying public at least one pretext for owning the record — some people may find it cool to nail something like that to the wall. In any case, the band's first, and only, release for Columbia sufficed to show that the problem was not with the recording label, but with the band itself. The soil was no longer fertile, the creativity dissipated, and the band hopelessly lost among generic acts of the day.
The decision to release a stripped down acoustic rendition of John Sebastian's 'Darling Be Home Soon' as a single is quite telling — and pitiful. There is nothing they can do to improve on the original: Sebastian's sugary-folksy vibe works well only when he does it, being such a charming, lovable chap and all, and they don't even begin trying to reinvent the song (and how could it be reinvented anyway?). And yet it is still a songwriting highlight on this album of limp, languid, lethargic soft-rock, next to which America and Bread hit songs take on the status of masterpieces.
In a way, The Association used to have crunch — not the hard-rocking kind of crunch, of course, but they could streamline their harmonies and heavy use of diverse and loud instrumentation to raise the plank of sunshine pop really high. Now, as they try to get more and more in touch with the mainstream pop values of the early 1970s, they have lost that crunch completely. Patches of spiritual inspiration still blink here and there ('Silent Song Thru The Land' and 'Come The Fall' have their moments of glory), but overall, they just lock the lazily strummed acoustic guitars and sleepily delivered vocal harmonies in a mind-numbing murmur, song after song — and, unlike David Crosby, they do not intentionally try to deliver this as trance-inducing sonics, but seem to sort of think that this is the way one is supposed to do good pop music these days. But it isn't!
The album's attempts to provide a little diversity are just as half-hearted: 'Kicking The Gong Around' totally wastes its cool opening bass line (could have been a gritty hard rocker, but becomes a silly jazz-pop number instead), and the ska thing on 'Please Don't Go' is as ridiculous as you'd probably expect a take on ska to sound in the hands of a band like The Association — no surprises there. Splat after splat after splat.
For better or worse, it is fairer simply to forget about the album. Really, The Association were the real Association as long as they were associated (har har) with Warner Bros. Columbia only had them for one record anyway: later in 1972, their bass player Brian Cole overdosed on heroin (yes, nice guys do drugs, too), and this initiated a wave of lineup changes that the band did not survive. Other than a few scattered singles, they had no more original albums. Later on, after a million lineup changes, they re-recorded some old tracks for Vintage (CBS, 1983), and then, one decade later, for The Association '95: A Little Bit More (Track Records, 1995) — both releases were heavily panned by those three people who heard them, and, honestly, I do not think it will make any sense to waste any time on their detailed discussion.
The funniest thing of all is that The Association still exists — in fact, it's not even as if there ever was a period in which it would be officially disbanded. And it is not even an entirely different band from what used to be, with Russ Giguere, Larry Ramos, and Jim Yester still in the band. And I suppose it should be OK by all of us as long as they do not try to record once again: a respectable oldies act that (a rare thing among active oldies acts) actually understands that their time has really passed, and that there is absolutely no reason to try and reignite your creativity if you know for sure there is no creative spark left.