Review: The Beta Band – The Regal Years (1997-2004)
Published on October 10th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
The Regal Years (1997-2004) is all of the Beta Band albums. All of them and more: each album comes packaged with its contemporary B-sides, and you get a further two bonus discs’ worth of live recordings, sessions and demos.
If you’re yet to acquaint yourself with The Beta Band then take a paused moment out of your life sometime to get lost in The Three EPs. As the title says, it is a bunged-together bundle of three early EPs, but it is generally considered to be their debut album.
Legitimacy pending, The Three EPs is one of the greatest debut LPs of all time. It starts on a significant high with the ‘monged Screamadelica‘ anthemry of the utterly unimpeachable “Dry the Rain”, and the wonder of its trip from thereon in is the kind that feels, in a good way, as if it goes on all day.
A lysergically laid-back sunny day that takes in the lonesome cowboy lament of “Dog’s Got a Bone”, the dazzling back-to-back shuffles of “Inner Meet Me” and “The House Song”, the chiming ecstasy of “She’s the One”, the arrestingly bleak “Dr. Baker”…heck, all of it.
We’ll get round to The Beta Band’s eponymous second album, but first a word apiece for their third and fourth albums Hot Shots II and Heroes to Zeroes: they are both quiet classics on the sly, beatsier and more nocturnal.
There’s so much to be entranced by: Steve Mason’s hypnotic vocals, the cool cosmic funk laced with drippy psychedelia, the satisfyingly full rhythm sections, the popping bass lines, the band’s ability to flit between burst-wide-open acid sunshine and chilling desolation with almost inexplicable subtlety…
“Squares”, “Broke”, “Alleged”, “Assessment”, “Wonderful”, “Troubles”…these songs just burrow their respective ways into your life and enrich you. Encompassing as it does Beta Band albums one, three and four, The Regal Years (1997-2004) is an essential package.
The aforementioned album two is the bone of contention, even all these years later. Disowned – nay, dismissed as “fucking awful” – by the band themselves around the time of its release, The Beta Band is so abundantly an anomaly that it’s delightfully absurd.
A little too much of it crosses into the realms of the utterly ridiculous, but some of it is genuinely magnificent. As much is evident from the opening two tracks alone, in which flat-out piss-take “The Beta Band Rap” rubs shoulders with magnificently foreboding epic “It’s Not Too Beautiful”.
Daft and cuckoo-ing though “Round the Bend” is on its exterior, its lyrics provide quite a bleak insight into the depression that would afflict Mason and quite conceivably play its part in breaking up the band.
In it, Mason makes mention of listening to The Beach Boys’ Wild Honey album (“It’s not their best album but it’s still pretty good / They’ve got some funny little love songs on there / But it’s not mainly a Brian Wilson production / So it’s probably not as good as something like Pet Sounds”), but The Beta Band is much more like disturbed SMiLE substitute Smiley Smile.
Some parts of the LP could be compared with Ween, or Beck circa Midnite Vultures, while others are oddly affecting: the bleak, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”-quoting “The Hard One”, for example, and mournful closer “The Cow’s Wrong”.
Now we can approach it with some distance, the inscrutability of The Beta Band arguably becomes one of its strengths. Some may rail against the notion of ‘interesting’ music, perhaps with good reason…but The Beta Band sure is one fascinating mess.
The Beta Band’s is an imperfect yet essential body of work, and we shall quail it accordingly.
The Regal Years (1997-2004) is out now on Parlophone.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!