Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I Hope You Don't Feel Too Unusual, Riding In My Flashcar: Donovan- Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
What a fucking masterpiece. Opening on the well-known title track, it sets the stage for one of the most deceptively slight and beautiful pop albums ever made with a song heavier and more rock oriented than anything Donovan had done before. But even when rocking, Donovan has a gentle, soothing presence, and despite some scorching guitar (played by a young Jimmy Page, it has been suggested), the song's energy is about as aggressive as easing into the world's hippest bath. Part of this is due to the Eastern influence Donovan had begun sporting around this time, a result of his time out far-East with the Beatles and that crafty old Maharishi. This sound is expanded on immediately with the next track, a very Eastern-sounding Irish raga. The next song is "Entertaining of a Shy Girl," which seems a charming bit of pleasantry until you realize he's singing to a child, at which point it becomes kind of a perfect haiku of kindness. Just lovely. Some have balked at the jaunty show tune that follows, but it strikes me as something Nilsson, the Monkees, and Paul Mccartney would have jigged to, and I like it a hell of a lot. Donovan nails it, as he always does.
The next song, "Get Thy Bearings," is one of the coolest songs, ever. Easily the standout of the album, for me. A jazzy jazzy number with enough darkness in its corners to be no laughing matter, it sports a creaky, menacing stand-up bass, mercilessly echoed drums, a sax solo that could be an archetypal example of the junction of jazz and "cool"... with jangling guitar that tips the whole thing into very psychedelic territory... And old Donovan just being the coolest cat that ever there could be. This song is so awesome.
To follow it up with the twee-to-the-max ballad "Hi, It's Been a Long Time" seems almost perverse, except the song is so good. "I hope you don't feel too unusual, riding in my flashcar," delivered with a maximum of zippy zest, is only the best line of the song-- but far from the only one to delight. The lyrics detail a number of encounters with the same woman through the years, and by the time she's, "dragged as any hippie should be, in old hippie town," you know it's a tragicomedy delivered by a storyteller at the top of his game. A little elvish Randy Newman.
A few songs go by, a few a bit silly, all quite pleasant, just top-notch folk-pop... and you hit "Tangier," a dark and dangerous dirge of drone-raga-and-repetition that stops a fellow cold. It's hypnotic in it's goodness. Surprisingly unsettling and musically stark for a Donovan album. Incredible. There's something in there that almost sounds electronic, and as it speeds up, it's maddening.
He ends the album on three more gorgeous, light masterpieces in miniature (the last boasting such a Beatles-y vocal effect that it's practically homage, which is fair) and just like that, you accidentally just listened to one of the best, most unnoticed and underrated, 60's albums. It's so delicate and restrained, it would be easy to overlook how psychedelic it is, in the best possible sense. It's drenched in a pleasantly druggy atmosphere, and it would be almost impossible to have a bad trip while listening to it-- a rare trait, indeed, if you ask me. It's also one of the best pop albums you could hope to hear, especially of the folky variety so popular in the 60s, and it's the man-child at his best. It's a quiet, unassuming masterpiece that doesn't care if you notice it, but it would be your unfathomable loss if you didn't.
P.S. It is one hundred thousand time better than Surrealistic Pillow.