THE BEAU BRUMMELS: TRIANGLE (1967)
1) Are You Happy; 2) Only Dreaming Now; 3) The Painter Of Women; 4) The Keeper Of Time; 5) It Won't Get Better; 6) Nine Pound Hammer; 7) Magic Hollow; 8) And I've Seen Her; 9) Triangle; 10) The Wolf Of Velvet Fortune; 11) Old Kentucky Home.
The title obviously refers to the band's being reduced to a trio — upon the departure of guitarist Don Irving and drummer John Petersen, following the embarrassment of '66. (And if that ain't enough, take an extra look at the album cover). Of course, one could always try to uncover additional meanings — for instance, attempt to define Triangle as a trendy concoction, consisting of one-third American country-/folk-rock, one-third British Kinks-style pop, and one-third world-wide psychedelia. That could probably work.
Anyway, the very fact that, having just recorded the most superfluous album in their history and gone through critical disinterest, fanbase decay, and loss of several members, The Beau Brummels found it in them to regroup, start anew, and present themselves as artists with interesting stuff to say in 1967, deserves merit. Triangle did not sell at all well, for understandable reasons: the Brummels were effectively kicked off the train by the end of 1965, and it would have taken a miracle to catch up with it in the whirlwind atmosphere of 1967. Besides, most people preferred their psychedelia with a harder edge at the time, and Triangle is totally music for sissies. However, some reviews were positive, and since then, the record earned itself a stable place on all sorts of «great albums from the past that you have never heard about» lists.
The most notable song is ʽMagic Hollowʼ — the band correctly realized that it was the most accomplished creation on the album and put it out as a single, unfortunately, forgetting that «most accomplished creations» do not always qualify for single releases: the sleepy, hypnotic attitude of the song is quite far removed from the dynamic punch that the record buyer usually expects when he puts down the cash for about three minutes worth of A-side music. But the fact that it flopped commercially does not diminish the accomplishment — mainly in terms of arrangement, which weaves a dense and unique sonic web of harpsichords (played by Brian Wilson's SMiLe partner, Van Dyke Parks), guitars, accordeons, chimes, and strings. It is, indeed, one of the finest representatives of the baroque pop era — and, as far as my own perception can tell, it does paint a musical picture of a «magic hollow» without the aid of any particularly «trippy» effects or studio trickery, other than a bit of toying around with the delay effect on the vocals at the end.
However, the same perception also suggests to me that, in general, Triangle is not much of a «lost masterpiece». Unlike so many true masterpieces of the psychedelic era, its songs do not have a lot of staying power. The band seems hung up in mid-air, somewhere in between their folk roots and «art-rock»... but that is not the real problem — many wonderful things were generated over time in such a hung-up state — the real problem is that the songs, with but a few exceptions, never seem to know how to build up to full stature.
Take something like ʽOnly Dreaming Nowʼ, for instance. There is an attractive cello riff that drives it, but it does not mesh at all well with the accordion melody — the song seems torn between its baroque fundament and some sort of gay Parisian attitude: an unusual marriage, perhaps, but not a particularly meaningful one. Much worse, however, is the fact that its ominous introduction never develops into anything «stronger» — the climax of the song involves nothing other than Valentino rising high to bleat out the chorus. Likewise, ʽThe Painter Of Womenʼ is basically just an acoustic guitar / brass-led mantra; its chorus is a little louder than its verses, but that's about it.
The album's magnum opus is the five-minute long ʽWolf Of Velvet Fortuneʼ, an attempt to write a mystical-magical mini-epic, influenced by mid-Eastern music, Tolkienish fantasy, and just a pinch of acid. Again, the premise is nice enough — the little creepy echoey guitar flourishes, the ominous notes in the singing — but the eventual resolution (the chorus of "Delight! Delight!"...) is not quite enough a pay-off for the monotonousness of the verses. It's a good song, but it never crosses borders — there is a good reason why everybody knows and loves Led Zep's ʽBattle Of Evermoreʼ, but not this Beau Brummels tale of happenings in a parallel world (and I was never even a big fan of ʽBattle Of Evermoreʼ in the first place).
Then there are some things that are just strange. For instance, what was the point of ending the album with a Randy Newman song? Just so as to please the album's producer Lenny Waronker, a good pal of Randy's? ʽOld Kentucky Homeʼ is indeed a hilarious send-up of redneck attitudes, but it doesn't exactly have a lot to do with psychedelia — and even though it's one of the best tunes on the album (since it belongs to Randy), its positioning right after "delight, delight, the wolf of velvet fortune is upon his merry flight" is befuddling.
So, to be honest, Triangle is a mixed bag, really. The Beau Brummels were a decent folk-rock band, and the only kind of hooks Ron Elliott knew how to manufacture were folk-rock hooks. When pressed with the necessity of living up to the times, they accidentally fell upon a unique kind of sound — that one thing I am quite ready to admit: Triangle sounds lovely and intriguing — but the substance did not have enough time to catch up with the form. So no, I do not think Triangle really could belong in the same category with Pet Sounds, Forever Changes, or even The Left Banke's killer singles.
But on the other hand, it could have been much worse. Most bands of The Beau Brummels' caliber were simply blown away for good by the psychedelic revolution, or, at best, tried to squeeze out miserably laughable simulations of «the real stuff». (Bands like The Hollies were actually the opposite of the Brummels — they continued to write better songs, but nothing that they did in 1967 was as individually inventive as ʽMagic Hollowʼ in terms of pure sound). From that point of view, Triangle is an artistic miracle that, regardless of any criticism, absolutely belongs in the collection of every art-pop lover, let alone the abstract «musical annals». You may fall under its spell or resist it if you wish, but there seems to be no reason to disagree with a thumbs up, particularly if all things are taken in the context of the Brummels' own career, rather than in the context of 1967 as the year of Sgt. Pepper, Are You Experienced, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, or Days Of Future Passed.
Check "Triangle" (MP3) on Amazon