Matt Berry’s shadow career as a songwriter has resulted in some wonderful projects over the years. While his earlier work leans on prog-folk ambitions, the comic actor stripped back his sound on last year’s fine pastoral song cycle ‘Phantom Birds’.
Yet another break with his past, ‘The Blue Elephant’ is a fantastic homage to 60s psychedelia – specifically the deeply English, kaftan-clad sonic voyagers who staffed such outre studio spaceships as The Pink Floyd, The Nice, July, Kaleidoscope, The Pretty Things, and more. Much more than just a loving pastiche, however, ‘The Blue Elephant’ succeeds due to its exceptional ensemble playing – Craig Blundell’s jazz leanings on drums are a particular highlight – and the force of Berry’s own songwriting.
Split into two side-long medleys – Side A and Side B, vinyl freaks – the record opens with the soothing sounds of ‘Aboard’ before diving into the kaleidoscopic freakout guitar pop that fuels ‘Summer Sun’. ‘Now Disappear’ is a smoky ’67 club hit, while songs like ‘Alone’ and ‘Invisible’ touch on the darker side of the psychedelic experience.
The second side opens with punchy title track ‘The Blue Elephant’, Matt Berry’s acoustic guitar acting as a centre for his studio solar system. The interstellar sounds ride through ‘Life Unknown’ and ‘Safer Passage’, before bursting into full bloom on the remarkable ‘Story Told’.
A thrilling evocation of an oft-forgotten era in British pop excellence, ‘The Blue Elephant’ is a supremely gifted passion project. Much more than a simple retro retread, it bursts with life and invention, fuelled by the clear joy of the central ensemble. Tune in and drop out, man.
Words: Robin Murray
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