Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Them - Now And Them (1967)

Them forged their hard-nosed R&B sound in Belfast, Northern Ireland, moving to England in 1964 after landing a deal with Decca Records. The band's simmering sound was dominated by boiling organ riffs, lean guitars, and the tough vocals of lead singer Van Morrison, whose recordings with Them rank among the very best performances of the British Invasion. Morrison also wrote top-notch original material for the outfit, whose lineup changed numerous times over the course of their brief existence. As a hit-making act, their résumé was brief -- "Here Comes the Night" and "Baby Please Don't Go" were Top Ten hits in England, "Mystic Eyes" and "Here Comes the Night" made the Top 40 in the U.S. -- but their influence was considerable, reaching bands like the Doors, whom Them played with during a residency in Los Angeles just before Van Morrison quit the band in 1966. Their most influential song of all, the classic three-chord stormer "Gloria," was actually a B-side, although the Shadows of Knight had a hit in the U.S. with a faithful, tamer cover version.

Morrison recalled his days with Them with some bitterness, noting that the heart of the original group was torn out by image-conscious record company politics, and that sessionmen (including Jimmy Page) often played on recordings. In addition to hits, Them released a couple of fine albums and several flop singles that mixed Morrison compositions with R&B and soul covers, as well as a few songs written for them by producers like Bert Berns (who penned "Here Comes the Night"). After Morrison left the group, Them splintered into the Belfast Gypsies, who released an album that (except for the vocals) approximated Them's early records, and a psychedelic outfit that kept the name Them, releasing four LPs with little resemblance to the tough sounds of their mid-'60s heyday.

The average '60s rock fan should be aware of this vital fact about Now & Them right away: This is not the version of the band that is most familiar, with Van Morrison on lead vocals. In fact, Morrison does not appear at all on this album, the first of the obscure LPs recorded by a reorganized Them after Morrison's departure for a solo career. For that simple reason, it cannot be compared to Them's previous recordings, either in quality or in style. Getting beyond that, it's not a bad record, though not a particularly good one, and pretty lacking in consistent direction. Perhaps because this was recorded in Hollywood (where Them was based at the time), it has a surprisingly American sound in many places. Yet their new sound, whatever it was, didn't coalesce, and the record seemed almost the work of several bands rather than one. There was fairly hard-nosed British R&B in the cover of John Mayall's "I'm Your Witch Doctor," American-styled blue-eyed soul on the cover of Timi Yuro's "What's the Matter Baby," bubblegummy psych-pop on "Truth Machine," echoes of the Monkees and the Association on "You're Just What I Was Looking for Today," a muted "Gloria" rewrite on "Dirty Old Man (At the Age of Sixteen)" (whose Strawberry Alarm Clock-like harmonies dilute the original arrangement, cut by the group slightly earlier on a non-LP single), disposable jazz-blues on "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out," Standells-styled garage rock on "Walking in the Queen's Garden," and an inferior cover of "I Happen to Love You" (done better by both the Myddle Class and the Electric Prunes). The big problem, however, was that the group simply did not have a lead singer miles within Van Morrison, nor did they write original material miles within what Morrison penned for the earlier Them records. For all that, it does contain one nice, lengthy, haunting raga rock piece, "Square Room," undoubtedly the most original work on the record, and the album's highlight. The 2003 CD reissue adds mono single mixes of "Walking in the Queen's Garden" and "I Happen to Love You" as bonus tracks

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