Somewhat bored by today’s mainstream diet of Springsteen, Coldplay and the Roger Waters “The Wall” tour, I recently installed Spotify on my PC and boy am I glad I did. While Spotify is legal and some other file sharing programs aren’t, there’s the disadvantage of not being able to drag songs into i-Tunes and “keep” them. But when you can open Spotify anytime you want and listen to virtually any song you want, why would you care? I know I don’t. Initially I just roamed about putting various queries into the search bar, like “trance acid blues” or “psychedelic techno”, or searching for better known stuff like but then I started searching for bands and albums I hadn’t listened to in a long, long time. Probably the most memorable of them is The Naked Prey’s Under the Blue Marlin from 1986. I can still remember the first time I listened to that album. It was 1987. We were in a friend’s flat, back home in Manchester. I’d just gone and picked up a tape of the album from a local psychedelic music aficionado, and we imbibed of some suitable victuals before banging it on the stereo. We were paralysed in our seats throughout the entire first track, “The Ride”, and then some. “These people are mental”, my mate spat, alarmed at the advanced state of terror “The Ride” had sent him into. “And so are that Thin White Rope an’ all!” “That Thin White Rope” was a reference to a band who’d also recently emerged from the L.A. music scene known as The Paisley Underground. Thin White Rope had released Exploring the Axis in 1985, hot on the heels of other Paisley Underground luminaries such as The Rain Parade, Green on Red and The Dream Syndicate. In 1987 they bettered Exploring the Axis with a shocker of an album entitled Moonhead. Moonhead basically scared the pants off anyone daft enough to listen to it “in the right frame of mind”, and indeed the local oficionado himself described his initial reaction to it as “Pickin’ me brains off the ceiling when it finished”.
But I digress. We were sitting in my mate’s flat, picking our brains off the ceiling having been subjected to Naked Prey’s “The Ride”, and he was terrified and moaning about how they and Thin White Rope were sick, twisted people who should never have been allowed into a recording studio. I was similarly alarmed at the weirdness and power of Naked Prey’s sound, but I wasn’t ready to denounce them as he had; they were just too %$&@%^$ good. At first blush they seemed like a fairly normal guitar band with a dark southwestern feel. But as the record progressed it became obvious there were large undercurrents here. Riptides and eddies that threatened to pull you under and crush the breath from your very bones. “The Ride”‘s frenzied pace switched down to a moodier even more dangerous sounding “A Stranger (Never Says Goodbye)” for track 2, doing nothing to help either of us regain our composure. The undulating, slow guitar riff along which “The Stranger” sailed sounded like it should have been in a much more famous song by a much more famous band, but wasn’t that like all Paisley Underground music? Each of the outfits associated with the scene represented a wasted ability to be stellar while sounding strange enough to never hit the big time. “Stranger” gave way to a storming version of The Stooges’ “Dirt”, taking Iggy’s Jim Morrison-esque vocals and injecting them with a big dose of speed. This was followed by a haunting track called “Train Whistle” whose lyrics melted into double-entendres that keep you awake nights feeling like a demented freak. Speaking of haunting, there truly is something odd about the quality of vocalist Van Christian’s voice. Half folk-psych-distorto-rocker, half plain Silence of the Lambs style insanity, Christian’s words were a force like a warm wind deep inside a dark desert cave.
The years 1983 to 1988 were definitely Brain On Ceiling vintage and “Under the Blue Marlin” was up there with the very best. While Thin White Rope were more obvious in their evil intentions, The Naked Prey were more of a stealth mindquake. Like quicksand, you were already in too deep by the time you realised you were in mortal danger, and by then it was too late; you were paralysed in your seat and your head was nearing explosion point. Being a fan of the Paisley Underground bands, and being 18, 19, 20, 21 years old when it was all happening has left an alien scar on my musical tastes. No offence intended, but the likes of Roger Waters, Springsteen and Coldplay are indistinguishable from One Direction when you’ve taken the trip into the labyrinth.
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