TV icon, Matt Berry, shows the right way to recreate 60s psychedelia on his latest long player; The Blue Elephant.
Release Date: 14th May 2021
Label: Acid Jazz
Formats: Vinyl (Various Variants) / Digipack CD / Cassette / Digital
You all know Matt Berry. If not strictly through his music, you’ll certainly know him from his many guises on television or in films – perhaps from his roles as Todd Rivers/Dr. Lucien Sanchez in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Dixon Bainbridge in The Mighty Boosh or Professor Awfulshirt with Harry Hill in Professor Branestrawm Returns. Or perhaps you know him as the guy that plays the womanizing boss Douglas Reynholm in Channel 4’s excellent The IT Crowd. Whatever.
Maybe you’re also aware that, in addition to his acting credentials, Matt Berry is also a musician of no mean ability and no small repute. The Blue Elephant is the ninth album of a musical career that began with 1995’s debut album Jackpot and which follows hot on the heels of 2020’s highly acclaimed and chart-troubling Phantom Birds. Written and mostly recorded before the release of Phantom Birds, The Blue Elephant marks a radical change of musical direction from the folkier stylings of the former album towards an exploration of acid rock, late 60s-styled pop, proto prog and much more.
In Matt’s words: “I wanted this album to be a reaction to the last. With Phantom Birds, I’d stripped everything back to basics and put my voice very much to the front. It was a song-driven endeavour with very little coming out of the speakers. With The Blue Elephant I was eager to go in the opposite direction.”
Well, he’s certainly done that. The net result is an object lesson in extracting and emulating the sounds of the more interesting end of the 60s. Ironically, my only slight complaint is that this time around, the vocals are so deeply submerged in the mix, they are almost unintelligible. That’s a pity because some of the lines that can be discerned are superb examples of tongue-in-cheek doggerel. For example, the refrain “It’s a drag to be set on fire…I’ve been sacked from the choir…I came back to Bedfordshire” in Now Disappear, or “Me, me – I don’t care, don’t touch my hair, please don’t stare” had me laughing out loud. It might be doggerel, but it’s entertaining doggerel.
But ultimately, The Blue Elephant is all about the music and, happily, that’s where it excels. Multi-instrumentalist Matt plays everything but drums on The Blue Elephant and his selection of instruments is faultless. The choice of mellotron, harpsichord and particularly Farfisa to evoke the sounds and, yes, even the smells (if you concentrate) of the late 1960s is inspired. The aim of capturing flavours of The Doors, Pink Floyd, Can and even Slade is achieved along with much more besides.
Spacy mellotron introduces opening track Aboard, a tune that is driven along by a bassline lifted straight from Je T’aime – Moi Non Plus and which goes on to nod in the direction of Walk On The Wild Side. The current single, Summer Sun is a lovely slice of West Coast psychedelia that recalls Iron Butterfly and Country Joe and the Fish – the Farfisa and the use of phasing take the listener right back to the heady days of the Summer of Love. Safe Passage is a short, highly enjoyable and lightly funky instrumental piece that introduces the marvelous Now Disappear – a chunk of light prog built around a fast, insistent riff.
Alone is dreamy and pastoral and sounds like a summit between The Doors and Simon Dupree and The Big Sound, before segueing into the psychedelic collage of Invisible, a tune described as “The Prisoners lost in a bad trip in a hall of mirrors,” a summary that nails it down pretty well.
Perhaps my favourite track on this intriguing album is its longest, Blues Inside Me. It is here that, by his own admission, Matt tries to merge Pink Floyd, The Doors, Can and Slade – a feat he manages, and also pulls in strains of The Kingsmen, The Velvet Underground and even, as the song reaches its zenith, Keynsham-era Bonzos. A wonderful song that reaches all corners of the garage rock and psychedelia genres. Side one of the vinyl version of the album closes with the soulful I Cannot Speak – a tune which, straight after Blues Inside Me, sounds almost like Booker T!
The opening three tracks of the vinyl album’s second side comprise a suite that Matt describes as “discombobulating and which deal with themes of uncertainty and the opaque but acute anxieties of the day .” Anxieties that seem to get more uncertain and opaque by the minute… All three tunes in the suite, starting with the title track The Blue Elephant are dreamy, scattered, psychedelic and slightly disturbing, before Safer Passage, the closing section of the suite, brings us back to Earth with a tune reminiscent of the theme to a 60’s TV spy serial.
The tremendous Like A Stone puts things back on the psych/pop track, a theme that is retained over the album’s three closing tracks: Story Told, Forget and a reprise of the majestic Now Disappear, this time with Craig Blundell’s always excellent percussion pushed to the front of the mix.
Matt is proud to consider The Blue Elephant as a culmination of all his recorded work to date. With a back catalogue that is as varied and eclectic as his, that might be a slightly fanciful notion, but culmination or not, The Blue Elephant is a triumphal piece of authentic psychedelia. Well worth a listen!
Watch the Official video for Summer Sun from Matt Berry – the album’s current single – here: