What will the new day bring?
I don't know about you guys, but I find this situation incredibly frustrating. I know a lot of people don't necessarily feel any need to know anything more about bands they like than what they are called, but I am not one of those people. If I like a band, I want to know everything there is to know about them, whatever that may be. And I especially want to be able to hear every note of music they've ever recorded. Sometimes it's impossible to tell what that even might be, and sometimes even when you can tell, you still have no way of actually hearing it all. The latter is the case with the band I'm writing this entry to discuss--a band called Disraeli. Before I get into the little I know about them, though, I have to explain how I initially encountered them.
Of course, Ugly Things has something to do with it. In recent months, I've been pretty obsessively poring over the back issues I collected but didn't read during the last four years--waiting, I suppose, for my obsession with 60s garage-psych to reach its apex (if it even has yet). There's tons to read in any one issue, so much that I typically will read an issue to the exclusion of almost everything else for about a week, maybe two, and then have to put it down and take a breather from garage-psych information overload. During these one to two week periods, I will typically finish about half of an issue. Yeah, that's how much information is in each one of these things. If they were converted into a book, with decent-sized type, and all of the illustrations were left intact, each issue would probably stretch to a length of 1200 pages or so. That's no joke. Anyway, in the record review section of Ugly Things issue 21, I encountered a review of the first five volumes of a new compilation series entitled "Fading Yellow". Ever since "Nuggets" in the 70s introduced the idea, there have been thematic compilations of 60s era singles coming out regularly. The 80s vintage comps "Pebbles" and "Back From The Grave" introduced the idea of releasing these in series, and by now there are probably so many LP and CD compilations of 60s era singles that you could own 500 of them and still not have them all. Of course, there's lots of repeated material from one comp to another, and some sound way better (and feature way better selections of material) than others. But for the most part, they're always worth checking out. This is especially true when you contrast the quality level of a 60s era original LP with one of these comps. The album format had not yet achieved the supremacy it came to attain in the 70s, and bands in the 60s tended to concentrate on singles, padding their albums with filler of various types--covers, instrumentals, even performances by other bands. For this reason, buying the album of a group whose contribution to a "Teenage Shutdown" or "Boulders" comp you particularly enjoyed is a dicey affair. And that's assuming there even is one--a lot of these bands were only around long enough to release a few singles, and may not have any full-length releases of their own to be had.
Anyway, that's why these comps exist. And since the format has been established for over 20 years, the more recent entries into this continuing stream of releases have gone further and further afield from the original template of garage/psych rockers. "Fading Yellow" is the first comp series (and undoubtedly not the last) that dives into a style known by collectors today as "pop-psych"--tunes that are way too poppy to have anything to do with the garage aesthetic, but bearing enough of an influence from the experimental, psychedelic atmosphere of the 60s to be more than just typical pop tunes. One band that's often referenced in discussion of "pop-psych" is Curt Boettcher's studio project, The Milennium, whom I really like. Compilations of obscure singles that sound like The Milennium seemed like they could be as rewarding of a listening experience as compilations of obscure singles that sound like The Yardbirds had been for me in past years. So when I encountered the "Fading Yellow" comps online, I downloaded them. All nine of them.
Now, I have to be honest here--there is way bigger potential for total failure in the creation of a pop-psych single than in the creation of a garage-rock single. There's a certain amount of baroque cheesiness that one has to expect from any entry into the genre, and it can be pretty tough for the cheesiness to avoid overwhelming the psych flavor entirely and leaving you with a song you'd be embarrassed for anyone to catch you listening to. And I pretty much just described 90% of the songs on the "Fading Yellow" comps. Even when I'm listening to them in my room with the door closed and no one else home, I find myself cringing way too frequently. Truthfully, regardless of my feelings for The Milennium (which remain warm), I don't like most of this stuff. But I gave a lot of it a lot more time and effort than I otherwise would have, due entirely to how much I liked Disraeli's contribution to the series.
For some reason, I chose to start with Volume 2 of the series, rather than Volume 1, and Disraeli lead it off with a haunting, hypnotic tune called "What Will The New Day Bring?" It took days before I could really get past it--every time I let the comp play through to track 5 or 6 or so, I'd get so tired of the total dropoff in quality after song 1 that I just started the whole thing over. Unlike the vast majority of contributions to this comp series, "What Will The New Day Bring?" has no cheese factor at all. Its vocals are based heavily around harmonies from multiple band members, and acoustic guitars, which seem to be backed by mellotrons (though this might be a deception caused by the less-than-perfect source), carry the riffs instead of any electrical instruments. But this song makes up for its less-than-intense instrumentation through its dark, foreboding mood. If I hadn't written about them only a few months ago, I might feel bad making such an obscure comparison, but as it is I feel no guilt in telling you guys that this band sounds more like The Poets than anything else I can think of. And an entire new dimension is added to the song by the lyrics. In the 60s, you really couldn't expect much depth from lyrics--love songs, hippy-dippy protest tracks, and hallucinatory drug fables were about all you got. Disraeli breaks from all of that in a big way, though, telling a tale that seems like it could be taken from some old murder ballad, passed down through folklore from generation to generation. I don't know for sure that it's not, in fact, which is frustrating, but honestly, I think these guys came up with this whole thing themselves. I, for one, am impressed.
The song's lyrics begin with a pretty girl, seemingly sequestered in an ivory tower (though such a thing is never explicitly stated), making herself up for the day. We're told that she's pretty, and seems carefree, but there are hints of repressed ennui: "She is taking her time putting on her face, to make time pass." She feels bored of her life, and chafes at its limitations. Hence the chorus: "She sings, 'La la la, what will the new day bring?'" It's an evocative portrait of the type of girl that one can imagine seeing on plenty of college campuses in the late 60s--still locked into the rigid societal expectations set for her by her upbringing, but feeling limited by it, and wanting more from life, even if she doesn't yet know how to get it. But then, when the second verse starts, the tone of the song changes completely. Now we're introduced to a second character, a man, who "lurks in the garden", preparing to murder the girl. "She seems not to be aware," we're told. "He's in disguise." At the end of the second verse, he climbs a tangled vine and sneaks into her window, "thinking in his mind, 'Don't leave a sign.'" Rather than repeating the chorus, the song moves immediately into the final verse. Now we're told that he's waiting for the perfect moment, and that she still has noticed nothing. The final image of the song: "To have luck in the kill, he kisses his ring." Which is then immediately contrasted by a repetition of the chorus; she still wants to know what the new day will bring. We never see the murder take place, and for all we know, it doesn't--someone arrives in the nick of time to save her. Or maybe not. That's ultimately not the point of the song. Actually, the point of the song seems really open-ended to me; Disraeli hopes to put the listener on edge, to create a feeling of disquiet through the telling of a disturbing tale, and perhaps to evoke the uneasy complacence of many of their middle-class listeners. Or maybe that's all just something I'm reading into it after the fact--there's no real way to know.
Because believe me, I would have found out. I was so into this song that, after I heard it, I attacked Google with a vengeance. After several searches in which I encountered nothing but links to Cream's "Disraeli Gears" album, I was finally able to search for specific enough terms that I found one webpage with information I didn't already have. One. This page contained MP3s of two other Disraeli songs, "Spinnin Round" and "Say You Love Me", which I of course downloaded as fast as I possibly could, and information about all of their releases, which appeared to amount to three singles. It didn't say who was in the band, what else they had done, or what years in which they'd recorded. Basically, other than giving me a look at a couple of picture sleeves and the opportunity to triple the amount of Disraeli songs that I owned, this webpage had little to offer. And it was the only source out there. As for the other two songs, neither were as good as "What Will The New Day Bring?", but both showed talent and inspiration. "Say You Love Me" had a jaunty verse that seemed a bit too cheesy and poppy to really be great, but contrasted this with some really strong rhythm guitar and drumming on the song's bridge, which pushed that entire section of the song into a more garage-like domain. "Spinnin Round" had a darker, minor-key song but got a bit singsongy on its choruses, and the lyrics, about coming home drunk and getting the bedspins, are silly and inconsequential--such a disappointment after the fascinating lyrics on "What Will The New Day Bring?"
In the end, I guess this is why bands like this end up with one song on a comp instead of retrospective releases and lengthy bios in collector magazines. They might have one moment of undeniable greatness, but the rest of their work is thoroughly ordinary and not worthy of lionization. Thing is, though, I'm not really ever going to be able to convince myself of that--not until I hear the remaining Disraeli songs that are out there to be heard. And I sure don't have the scratch to start scouring Ebay for auctions of their singles, which are doubtless rare as hen's teeth and go for large amounts of money. I guess that, until some far more pre-eminent scholar of 60s garage/psych than my humble self decides to hunt down the surviving members of Disraeli, wherever they are now, and tell their story once and for all, I will be left wondering. Help me Richie Unterberger, you're my only hope!
Disraeli - What Will The New Day Bring?
Disraeli - Say You Love Me
Disraeli - Spinnin' Round
Googling update: a new search brings me two different pages with significantly more biographical details than I could previously find: One and Two. Thanks to both of these sites for providing info!