Ministry of Sound
Mr Albert Show
Mind Over Matter (Germany) see:
Men From the Ministry/Midsummer Night's Dreaming (2005, recorded 1966-68, 96.23) **½/T
Someone Like You
I'm Coming Home
Something Very Good
Goodbye to Rosalie
Sunday in the Park
Hey Girl (No Need to Push)
Something You've Got
Ooh la la
|I Couldn't Spend Another
Day Without You
Three in the Morning
Angels Get Out of Bed
Big Top Heart
Get Outta My Way
Love Equals Love
|White Collar Worker
Throw the Thing Away
Back Seat Driver
Rain Rain Rain
In the Sky
Going Round and Round
Time Motion Man
|Little Ray of Sunshine
Life is Living
When I Was Born
Rain Rain Rain (alt.version)
Decades before the current London club, the phrase Ministry of Sound had already been coined by Robin Shaw and Micky Keen for their studio project, although they only managed to release one single in their 'lifetime', White Collar Worker/Back Seat Driver. Their name wittily taps into a certain vein of '60s spy films, as does the forty-years-on compilation of their work, Men From the Ministry/Midsummer Night's Dreaming, although listening to it all these years later, it has to be said that's it's all a bit safe, certainly compared to what was going on at the time. It comes as no great surprise to hear that one of the kings of manufactured pop of the era, the legendary John Carter (The Flower Pot Men, The Ivy League, First Class etc. etc.) was involved in some of their recordings, either.
The set improves as it goes along, principally at the point where Shaw and Keen 'switched over' to psych/pop, a few tracks into the second disc, but even their soft psych material isn't really that engaging, to be honest. Maybe there's a reason most of this stuff wasn't released at the time. Anyway, an unknown sessioneer plays Mellotron flutes on In The Sky and the bizarre Laughing Man, with strings on Rain Rain Rain (Alternate Version), barely enough to give the lengthy set a full T. Men From the Ministry is by no means a bad album, just a rather ordinary one, although fans of the style will go ga-ga over it, I've no doubt. Three 'Tron tracks out of 35 just isn't enough to make it worthwhile on those grounds, though.
See: The Flower Pot Men
Down With Wilco (a Tragedy in Three Halfs) (2003, 42.02) ***/T
|The Days of Wine and Booze
Retrieval of You
That's Not the Way That it's Done
The Town That Lost its Groove Supply
Where Will You Go?
Life Left Him There
|The Family Gardener
The Old Plantation
What I Don't Believe
View from Below
I'm Not Bitter
Dear Employer (The Reason I Quit)
Of Monkees & Men (2016, 44.06) ***½/TMichael Nesmith
Davy Gets the Girl
Song for Peter Tork
Micky's a Cool Drummer
Boyce & Hart
Robert Ryan is Among Us
Weymer Never Dies
The Minus 5 could probably loosely be described as 'powerpop', although they refuse to fit into the standard Beatles/Big Star configuration, choosing to take influences from a broader range of styles. They're effectively a Scott McCaughey solo project, each lineup featuring different guest musicians, including members of R.E.M. and The Posies, amongst others, plus an early They Might Be Giants connection. 2003's grammatically-iffy Down With Wilco (a Tragedy in Three Halfs) is something like the band's fifth proper album (it's not that easy to tell) and is, unsurprisingly, a collaboration with Wilco, sounding, again unsurprisingly, not that dissimilar to that band in their later incarnation, i.e. perfectly respectable, but a little unengaging. Charlie Francis plays Mellotron (Wilco's?) on Daggers Drawn, with a cello part that could almost be real. Nice, but inessential, to be honest.
2016's Of Monkees & Men appears to be a loving tribute to The Monkees, an infrequently-quoted influence on the powerpop scene, compared to the usual suspects. Well, they don't begin with 'B', do they? Anyway, highlights include lengthy opener Michael Nesmith, Song For Peter Tork and Blue Rickenbacker, but nothing here screams 'remove me!' Scott McCaughey plays what I presume is real Mellotron on closer Weymer Never Dies, although whether or not it's Wilco's machine is unknown, with a chordal string part dipping in and out of the mix.
See: Wilco | R.E.M. | The Posies | They Might Be Giants
Nevergreen! (1972, 37.28) ***/TSpoiled Love
Song for Ann
Time Will Change
Munich's Missing Link released their sole album, Nevergreen!, in 1972, apparently utilising Embryo's Dieter Miekautsch on keys. The album is a slightly odd mixture of styles, sounding very slightly how Uriah Heep may have sounded had they tried to play jazz-rock; since we've been spared that particular delight, the possibly more competent Missing Link can show us how it might have sounded. The material is rather less memorable than Heep's best, though closer Kids Hunting is a good, rocking track, with touches of fusion and prog thrown into the mix.
Miekautsch's highlight here is instrumental piano piece Song For Ann, although there's some nice ripping Hammond in places, particularly on Kids Hunting. Can't say there's much happening on the Mellotron front, unfortunately, with naught but an atmospheric string part towards the end of opener Spoiled Love. Overall, then, not a bad album, but nowhere near 'outstanding', although parts of it may grow on the listener with repeated plays.
Warm Motor [a.k.a. Dutch Treat] (1971, 40.44/59.24) ***/T
|Did You Really Find Somebody
I am Not More Than a Sign
Let it All Hang Out
I Can't Help it
Show Me Your Tongue
Can't Find My Way Home
Hooked on You
Picking Up Your Page]
Warm Motor (retitled Dutch Treat in the States) was The Mr Albert Show's second and last album, largely consisting of rather average hard-ish rock like lengthy opener Did You Really Find Somebody or the funkyish Let It All Hang Out. Not bad, but not that good, either and far too similar to a thousand other albums to've made any real breakthrough at the time. Best track? Electronic Baby, simultaneously heavy and progressive, while the vague Tullisms of I Am Not More Than A Sign don't hurt, but it's still only enough to get the album three stars.
Either Bonki Bongaerts or Bertus Borgers played the Mellotron, probably that Hilversum Phonogram Studios M300, as on so many other Dutch albums of the period. Whoever plays it slathers strings all over original album closer Woman, to pleasing effect, plus a little strings and brass on one of the CD's bonus tracks, Hooked On You. Speaking of which, said bonuses are somewhat on the average side, but that's clearly the easiest way to get the album, should you so desire. All a bit ordinary, then, but one great Mellotron track.
Actual Size (2001, 55.55) ***/T
|Lost in America
Mary Goes 'Round
One World Away
I Don't Want to Be Happy
|Crawl Over Me
Cheap Little Thrill
How Did I Give Myself Away
Nothing Like It in the World
Deep Dark Secret]
It's difficult to deny that Mr. Big have assaulted our ears with some right old dross in their early years, despite their ferocious musicianship, but their sixth album, 2001's Actual Size, is a fairly acceptable slab of accessible hard rock, with a distinct King's X influence on several tracks. I'm not sure there are any 'highlights' per se, but opener Lost In America, One World Away, Crawl Over Me and How Did I Give Myself Away are all above average.
Producer Ritchie Zito plays what sounds like real Mellotron on Arrow, switching between cello and flute parts, with more cello on bonus track Deep Dark Secret. Enough to make this worth the effort? Not really, no, not least due to the Mellotron's slightly murky recording quality. Summation? I've heard worse.
See: Richie Kotzen | Pat Torpey
Lightworlds (2008, 25.23) ***/T½The Infinity Machine
Don't Try to Think
Metropoli del Ferro
Sounds From the Cave (2008, 24.20) ***/TThe Caveman
Trip Through the Water Door
Monolith Voodoo Vibes
The Red Baron
For Pete's Sake (2009, 55.12) **½/T
|For Pete's Sake
Mecca and the Soul Brother
Get on the Mic
Straighten it Out
Shut em Down
I Got a Love
The World is Yours
Silver Frequencies (2009, 65.16) **½/TT
Feathers on Fire
Outside My Door
Ends and Means Dub
The Zero Point
Hole in the Sky
Mr. Chop is essentially Coz Littler, proprietor of Ape Studios, one of a handful of (mostly) analogue studios left in the UK. They/he play psychedelic electronica, for want of a better term, 2008's Lightworlds EP being their first release in several years. It's... efficient, although their influences clash badly with my sense of how this music should or could sound. However, it wasn't made for me and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who love this stuff. Ape own a real, live M400, heard on a couple of tracks here (played by Littler and Glyn Williams), with strings, flutes and a melody line on, er, something on The Infinity Machine, while there are choirs and strings all over Zoid like a rash. The same year's Sounds From the Cave EP is more of the same, at least to my ears, with just the one 'Tron track (from Littler?), with strings (including some cool pitchbends) on The Red Baron.
Their first album, the following year's For Pete's Sake, I find rather less interesting than the EPs, featuring far more repetitive material that begins to drag after a while. Definitely Littler on 'Tron this time, with faint choirs on Good Life, T.R.O.Y. and Mecca And The Soul Brother, plus flutes on Main Ingredient, although, for some reason, it stops there. Silver Frequencies, from the same year, is structured around a series of ambient 'Intermezzos', surrounding more 'typical' Mr. Chop material; better efforts include Psychic Psych and Magic Box, but I'm having trouble getting excited about anything here. Littler's Mellotron is stupendously badly recorded, to the point where I'd imagine it's deliberate, for some reason. Although the background choir chords on the title track are held for longer than eight seconds, I suspect studio trickery (been there, done that) as against samples, with more of the same on Feathers On Fire, Outside My Door and Psychic Psych (plus flute on the latter), while a flute melody holds 8000 Volts together, although the second half of the overlong album is entirely Mellotronically bereft.
None of these are going to do much for your average proghead, but anyone into modern electronica may get something out of them, although none are worth it on the Mellotron front.
See: Samples etc.
Barren Dream (1987, 52.22/57.05) ***½/½
|All the Fallen People
Step Into Easter
Eternal Jealousy (single version)]
Mr Sirius, a.k.a. Kazuhiro Miyataka, is a multi-instrumentalist whose first (?) solo album, Barren Dream, falls broadly into that '80s Japanese prog' category, which doesn't really tell you that much about it, I suppose. It has elements of symphonic progressive, fusion and probably several other styles I haven't yet identified, which can make for a slightly disjointed listening experience although, overall, it's a good album. Difficult to pick out highlights on a first listen, but All The Fallen People is possibly the most cohesive track, and the nearest to 'typical' progressive.
Miyataka is credited with Mellotron on part one of All The Fallen People, Overtune (well, that's what it says in the booklet), but all I can hear is a couple of string chords on the intro, which don't even sound that 'Tronlike. As a result, this is no 'Tron album, but worth hearing for those into that peculiarly Japanese style of symphonic prog.
Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004, 48.40) ***/T
The World at Large
The Ocean Breathes Salty
Dig Your Grave
Bury Me With it
|This Devil's Workday
Satin in a Coffin
Blame it on the Tetons
The Good Times Are Killing Me
Modest Mouse seem to inhabit the odder end of post-punk US indie, being perfectly happy to juxtapose banjos with brass, or blatantly pastiche Tom Waits though, admittedly, not in the same song. I'll admit to being quite unqualified to review their fourth album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, as I really don't get where they're coming from at all, but kudos to the band for making a commercial success out of being left-field, even if they slip into standard 'misery' mode every now and again.
Mellotron on three tracks, though the only overt use is a big string part on The World At Large, from Dann Gallucci. Right at the end of the song, the pitch is wound right down, and the 'Tron (it sounds pretty real) is played at a lower pitch, allowing notes to be held for longer; nice effect, guys. No, really. Gallucci also plays it on The View, and Eric Judy plays on Float On (sadly, nothing to do with the ludicrous Philly soul hit by The Floaters), although it's difficult to work out what exactly it's supposed to be doing, as it's pretty much inaudible in both cases.
So; US indie oddballs, one decent 'Tron track. Depends how you feel about oddball US indie, I suppose.
See: Samples etc.
Dither (2001, 58.52) ***/½
The Ghost of Ralph's Mom
New York City
Can't Seem to Find
In a Big Country
Moe, usually (and highly irritatingly) spelled moe., complete with full-stop, are that peculiar-to-America thing, a jam band (see: The String Cheese Incident). In other words, bands taking their main cues from The Grateful Dead and usually picking up some of their following, slightly adrift since Jerry Garcia's death, The Other Ones and The Dead notwithstanding. In common with most jam bands, Moe play a bewildering range of styles, including various forms of psych (naturally), folk, country, blues, jazz, rock... At least they seem to avoid that terrible 'white dub' thing that too many of their contemporaries seem to consider a good idea.
2001's Dither is their eighth album proper, shifting between country (So Long), folk (New York City), Americana (Can't Seem To Find) and, bizarrely, a good cover of Big Country's In A Big Country, complete with folky fiddle part, although the bulk of the album consists of middling rock, tailor-made to be extended into live jams. Somebody or something calling itself Late Nite Rascals is credited with Mellotron (does this mean anything to fans?), with occasional strings on opener Captain America, although that would appear to be it.
So; a decent enough effort, although I'm sure its material takes on an entirely different aspect in its natural home, the auditorium. Definitely not worth it for the minimal Mellotron, either. Incidentally, the album duration above has had fourteen minutes of blank space stripped out between official closer Opium and a different version of Captain America tacked on the end.
The Moffs (1985, 33.57) ***½/TTLook to Find
A Million Years Past
I Once Knew
I'll Lure You on
|7" (1986) ***½/T
By the Breeze
|7" (1987) ***½/T½
Labyrinth (1988, 48.35) ***½/½Touch the Ground
The Grazing Eyes
Always a Flame
Stealing Cake (to Eat the Moon)
Who'll Point You
The Moffs were a Sydney-based psychedelic band, which probably wasn't the hottest route to success in the '80s, more's the pity. They released a demo and a single before their self-titled mini-album debut appeared in '85, sounding about as far from the pop mainstream of the time as it could. Early Pink Floyd are an obvious initial comparison, with plenty of Farfisa in evidence (although without the cavernous reverb that the Floyd preferred), and generally pretty laid-back material, though, like their mentors, a certain tension is apparent throughout the album, avoiding potential accusations of blandness. It's difficult to pick out a 'best track', but this reviewer particularly liked I Once Knew, while closer The Meadowsong is easily the longest piece here, topping twelve minutes, for fans of epic psych. Guitarist Tom Kazas doubles on Mellotron, playing string parts on all three highlighted tracks, with the most upfront use being on I Once Knew.
Two singles appeared before the next Moffs twelve-incher, 1986's Flowers and the following year's The Traveller. All four tracks are worthy additions to the band's catalogue, particularly the hooky The Traveller, albeit in an (unsurprisingly) shorter format than on The Moffs, true to their '60s inspiration. Two 'Tron tracks out of the four, with flutes on Flowers and flutes and strings on Quakers Drum (sic), the flip of The Traveller.
The band released their sole full album, Labyrinth, in '88. Opener Touch The Ground sounds a lot like '70s Floyd this time, unfashionable though they are amongst psych fans, although the band unblot their copybook with Tapestry, which could be an outtake from More or Ummagumma. Some of the material actually sits more in the progressive than the psychedelic camp, notably the fantastically-titled instrumental Stealing Cake (To Eat The Moon) and closer Who'll Point You. Practically no obvious credited Mellotron (from Kazas again), sadly, with possibly background strings on Surprised and flutes on Who'll Point You, though the instrument (if that's what it is) has been mixed so far down, it's very difficult to tell.
So; two quite different, but very worthwhile albums from an unfairly forgotten band, assuming they could ever have said to be 'known'. Psych fans most definitely need to apply, unless they're stuck in a 'late-'60s or bust' mentality, in which case they might as well give up now. If you're after some Hot Mellotron Action, though, while The Moffs might keep you happy for a short while, Labyrinth will only disappoint. OK, what we need now is official, easy-to-obtain reissues of both albums, with various single tracks as bonuses, to finally give the band some long-overdue respect. n.b. That now exists: The Collection, on Australia's Feel Presents label. Hurrah!
Official Tom Kazas site
See: Tom Kazas
|7" (1968) ***½/TT½
We Are the Moles (part 1)
We Are the Moles (part 2)
The Moles were none other than Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, who later morphed into the phenomenal Gentle Giant, of course. I don't know the history behind this semi-novelty record's release, but I'd guess that after their major success with the wonderful Kites, The Big Sound's record company were desperate to get them another hit by any means. We Are The Moles failed miserably on that front, but manages to be a rather good little song in its own right, with 'Simon Dupree' (Derek Shulman)'s distorted vocal, rhyming (rather predictably) 'moles' with 'holes'.
There's barely any Mellotron on the A-side, but the (superior?) flip has loads of flutes and strings, creating one of the UK psych scene's lesser-known 'Tron classics. You'll never find an original copy, but that matters not one jot, as it's just been reissued on Simon Dupree's Part of My Past anthology, released in early 2004. The album's more than worthy of your attention anyway, with these two tracks being a bit of a bonus.
See: Simon Dupree and the Big Sound
A Night at Raji's EP (2001, 17.58) ****/TTA Night at Raji's
Songs for Vowels & Mammals (2004?, 61.41) ****/TTT½
Dial (2007, 32.55) ***/TTDial
To be honest, I don't know an awful lot about Molesome, only that Änglagård drummer Mattias Olsson is heavily involved (it's Mattias' proud boast that there's Mellotron to be found on every single album he's played on, which has to be applauded...). Like most of his recent work, such as Geller and Pineforest Crunch, A Night at Raji's (sort of) falls into the 'intelligent, offbeat pop' category, which can be no bad thing. Mixing programmed instruments with good old-fashioned acoustic ones, it's actually effectively instrumental, although with some spoken word parts, so I suppose it isn't 'pop' at all, really. Narcotics is particularly good, with an amusing exchange on the subject of, er, 'substances'. Mellotron flutes on both Naples and 22nd March, with a couple of pitchbends to let you know it's real (as if...), along with the glockenspiels, tremolo guitar etc. A Night at Raji's is a pretty cool, modern record, which even died-in-the-wool prog fans may find acceptable; I've no idea if the band is an even remotely full-time proposition, or simply another one of Mattias' projects, but a whole album of this stuff would be most welcome.
You know when they say, "You should be careful what you wish for..."? Three or so years later, what should fall onto my doormat but a full-length Molesome album, Songs for Vowels & Mammals. Is this generally available? Depends on your definition of 'generally available', I suppose; I believe it is/was available on Mattias' Roth-Händle site, if you can actually gain access to the thing. It's weirder than its predecessor, and is clearly a Mattias solo project this time round, featuring the usual array of cranky old keyboards and drum machines, and what's more, I have no idea what (if anything) any of the tracks are called. What is undeniable, though, is that the man has a way with a tune; many of the tracks have beautiful melodies, usually played on MiniMoog or Mellotron, though possibly more in an 'art-house film soundtrack' way than a 'worldwide hit single' one, which is probably a good thing. Moments of humour rear their ugly heads here and there, too, with Track 8 being a worthy successor to Raji's Narcotics.
It's likely that some of the 'programmed drums' are actually Mattias' old Chamberlin Rhythmate, which, since it's a tape-replay device, should count as a Chamberlin, but unless/until I'm informed as to what is and what isn't, I really can't comment. As far as more standard Mellotron stuff goes, while I'm certain to miss some of the sounds used, particularly when they're stacked up in the mix, this is what I can actually hear: Cellos, flutes and strings on track 1, strings on 4 and some gorgeous, upfront flutes backed with cello on 5. Flutes and strings on 6, cellos on 10 and ghostly choirs (are there any other kind in Mellotronland?) on 11, with unidentified orchestral something-or-others on 13. 15 features flutes through a Digitek Whammy pitchbend pedal, making for some interesting octave effects, with a final Mellotronic appearance from the cellos, strings and flutes on Track 18. Now go on, tell me what I've missed.
2007 and it's another Molesome album - of a sort. Dial is the sort of thing that lazy reviewers might call 'ambient', only ambient music isn't meant to be this discordant and all-round odd, I suspect. It largely consists of moaning synth with random brass stuck on top, vocal samples, and the odd bit of piano thrown in, so it would seem that 'intelligent, offbeat pop' no longer applies. Actually, this doesn't sound entirely dissimilar to Julian Cope's very odd Odin, only shorter, and with slightly more variety. Mellotron? There's something stabby at around the 16-minute mark, and some background choirs a few minutes later, with some definite flutes and strings around 24 minutes. When suddenly... 26 mins, and full-on strings! Almost rhymes, too. That would appear to be your lot.
See: Änglagård | AK-Momo | Geller | Nanook of the North | Pineforest Crunch | Reminder
The Mommyheads (1997, 46.01) ***/T
I'm in Awe
In the Way
You Keep on Looking Back
Wake Up Irene
Thought of You
Would He Know?
The Mommyheads, fronted by Adam 'son of Leonard' Cohen, operated from the late '80s to the late '90s, releasing five albums, of which their eponymous one was the last. Unusually, as this usually happens in reverse, it started off by irritating me, then as it played, I slowly got used to their sound until I ended up quite liking it. And their sound was...? Classic intelligent pop; plenty of Beatles, shades of their contemporary Michael Penn, basically good melodies over inventive chord sequences. Remember them? Well, no-one else does... Standouts? Hard to say after less than two plays, but Corky has a great lyric, and there's nothing here that makes you want to reach for the 'skip' button, which is a result in itself.
The ubiquitous Jon Brion plays Chamberlin on Thought Of You and Screwed, and just for once, you can actually hear the bloody thing. Strings (OK, violins) on the former, sounding, yet again, a lot like the real thing, and flutes on Screwed, although it could easily have been used on another half dozen tracks without over-egging the pudding. Well, I think so, anyway. So; why only three stars? Well, the songs are good, but not great, and without playing it several times in fairly quick succession (time, time...), it's impossible to tell whether its stature will grow or diminish with repetition. Saying that, it's a good album, and may just possibly have its rating bumped up at some point in the future. Two OK Chamby tracks, but don't buy it for them.
See: Adam Cohen
Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard (1978, 36.46/58.33) ****/½
|Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard
Souvenirs de Naufrageurs
Créature sur la Steppe
Souvenirs de Naufrageurs (live)
|Créature sur la Steppe (live)
Mona Lisa are often, unfairly, labelled Ange copyists. OK, so they're a loosely Genesis-influenced French progressive band from the early-to-mid-'70s with a theatrical singer. And? They actually sound very little like them, at least within the prog oeuvre, although occasional Genesis comparisons do hold up. 1978's Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard was their fourth album, following hard on the heels of their classic, the previous year's Le Petit Violon de Monsieur Grégoire (****½), and actually holds up very well in comparison, given that the two-pronged punk/disco attack had hit in their homeland, too. This is a full-on progressive album, with no obvious concessions being made to modernity; y'know what, though? Maybe the band saw this as 'modernity' at the time. The most anyone can do is spot trends, and most of us can't even do that, so if Mona Lisa had an audience who went wild for what they were doing, why would they try to conform to a new set of media-imposed rules? Anyway... Keys man Jean-Paul Pierson is credited with Mellotron (the band had never used one before), but it's only to be heard on Souvenirs De Naufrageurs, with some background choirs near the end, making you wonder why they bothered. It doesn't feature on the live version added to Musea's CD release, making it highly likely that a studio machine was fired up for the sole track.
Vocalist and band linchpin Dominique Le Guennec left after Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard, so drummer Francis Poulet 'did a Collins' and stepped up to the mic for the original band's last album, '79's Vers Demain (***½). While it's rumoured to have some 'Tron input, there's nothing audible, so null points on that front, although it's a much better album than you'd expect from its year of release. As far as Avant qu'il Ne Soit Trop Tard goes, if you're into the French prog sound and like their earlier albums, you won't be disappointed. Next to no Mellotron, but it's a bit irrelevant here, to be honest. Incidentally, Le Guennec reformed the band in the late '90's, though with no other original members, choosing instead to co-opt most of current French outfit Versailles. They made one studio album, 1998's De l'Ombre à la Lumière, using fake Mellotron (reviewed here) and a live album before dropping out of sight again.
See: Samples etc.