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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Hollies: Evolution


1) Then The Heartaches Begin; 2) Stop Right There; 3) Water On The Brain; 4) Lullaby To Tim; 5) Have You Ever Loved Somebody; 6) You Need Love; 7) Rain On The Window; 8) Heading For A Fall; 9) Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe; 10) When Your Light's Turned On; 11) Leave Me; 12) The Games We Play; 13*) Carrie Ann; 14*) Signs That Will Never Change.

The Hollies did not manage to either properly adapt to the psychedelic revolution, or even to sur­vive it. They endorsed some of the formal trappings — just look at the album cover, designed by «The Fool», who were also the regular providers of psychedelic visual gimmicks for The Beatles; but nobody in the band ever had the gumption to plunge into the proper spirit. Clarke was a pop­ster, Nash was a folkie, Hicks was the portrait of Dorian Gray, and the rhythm section never developed any ambitions of their own; thus, even if the sessions for Evolution were literally taking place a few doors away from those for Sgt. Pepper, what the band did on this album was altogether not very different from what they'd been doing in 1966.

The problem is that they were still a bit confused about it, and the final results, though definitely not bad, were a step down from the smash quality of For Certain Because. Not so much because the band was derailed by psychedelia — this resulted in only one small specific disaster, to which we will return in a moment — but rather because, not being ready to fully embrace it, they hesi­tatingly fell back on the old formula, and produced too many tunes that sounded like inferior variations on what they'd done previously. The album's title is really misleading: Evolution does not feature the band evolving at all, other than adding a few superficial touches that actually show The Hollies being notably afraid of evolution.

A good example would be the song ʽRain On The Windowʼ, a rather pathetic attempt to write another ʽBus Stopʼ — the tune borrows not just the gray melancholic mood of the original, but even some of its vocal phrasing, rhythmics, and arrangement details. It is still kinda cute, and the French horn solo is a nice touch, but the vocals are so limp in comparison that there can be abso­lutely no competition. On the more anthemic songs, the old build-up trick — start out soulful and slow, gradually rise to a bombastic chorus — is no longer as effective on new songs such as ʽYou Need Loveʼ as it used to be on, say, ʽPay You Back With Interestʼ. And some of Nash's folkie stuff is beginning to get too cloying and cutesy for its own good (ʽStop Right Thereʼ), as if he'd already forgotten that his potential audience could consist of somebody other than small toddlers ready to be tucked into bed.

The record is still eminently listenable, because The Hollies are still playing energetic pop-rock rather than submitting to easy listening standards — and at least a small handful of the tunes should be eligible for classic status. ʽThen The Heartaches Beginʼ is an excellent album opener, for instance, and one of the few songs here that did benefit from psychedelic innovations — Tony Hicks has an excellent raga-influenced distorted guitar part here, and it forms a dizzying combi­nation with the band's falsetto harmonies. ʽLeave Meʼ is an outstanding angry rant of the kind that Clarke is really good at, except that he was doing fewer and fewer of those as time went by. And I'm pretty sure that any of the other songs could become a personal favorite for anybody: hardly any of them, however, could hope for well-earned collective popularity — because, really, there's a superior song from the 1965-66 period for each of them, and this is where it becomes obvious that The Hollies have not simply lost the race to The Beatles (something they did way back in 1963), but that they fell out of the race altogether.

Still, they carry on, and the only song here that could make me reconsider the thumbs up rating is the above-mentioned disaster — ʽLullaby To Timʼ (yes, more toddler stuff: allegedly written by Clarke for his son, but still given over to Nash, because, you know, it's his game). Not because it is a bad song, but because of the horrendous distorted effect that they put on Graham's vocals to make them sound «psychedelic». Hit up the explanation of the concept of «datedness» in any textbook on art, and chances are you'll get a soundbite of this — what might have sounded super­ficially curious in the early days of recording technologies is impossible to perceive these days as anything but an accidental penetration of «chewed tape» onto the studio master. Honestly, if I were in charge, I'd spit on respect for artistic legacy, recover the original tapes, and delete that effect from all remasters of the album; but I guess they lost the original tape anyway, because that is the only humane explanation of why this travesty has not been remedied. Of course, this is only one song, but it is fairly symbolic — as if for this band, «going psychedelic» simply meant «pick out a random song and put some shitty effects on it».

At least the CD edition is kind enough to throw on ʽCarrie Anneʼ as a bonus (a song that should have been ʽMarianneʼ, since Nash planned to dedicate it to Marianne Faithfull but chickened out at the last moment) — the single from May '67 that is better than almost all of Evolution com­bined, a song that combines catchiness, kiddie innocence, marimbas, and the bitter irony of what would be condemned these days as «slut-shaming» (yes indeed!) in one excellent little package, and temporarily restores the band's reputation as providers of intelligent British pop-rock that could at least compete with the catchy sarcasm of the Stones and the Kinks, if not necessarily with the mind-blowing progressions of ʽStrawberry Fields Foreverʼ. And, if anything, the next LP would show that the band was handling the Era of Change better than most of their B-grade com­petitors from the early days of Merseybeat. But the Golden Age of the Hollies was irretrievably over with this album, even if, commerce-wise, it surprisingly managed to chart higher than For Certain Because. Perhaps The Fool made a difference, after all.


  1. I get your point... there isn't any real Evolution here... and the Hollies do sort of loose out in the Beatles/Stones/Hollies race here completely because they just can't really connect with you on the adult level if that makes sense. They just can't be "Sophisticeted".

    Having said that, I don't think you can like For Certain Because and not this one. For Certain Because was great pop songs dressed up with an Orchestra, Evolution is great pop songs dressed up with "psych effects and instruments".

    It's worth listening to this contemporary cover of Lullaby To Tim to appreciate it as a nice song -

    BTW - George you need to up the rate of Hollies reviewing, they are one of the greatest bands ever you know!

  2. The next album is better. I’m sure George will say so as well...

    People rave about how innovative Johnny Marr is, but Tony Hicks had done it all two decades earlier.

  3. I like this album a lot, but the version I have puts Carrie Anne as the opener and Jennifer Eccles somewhere on the home stretch. Lullaby for Tim doesn't bother me at all, and the melody is actually fantastic.