One of the more interesting sub-genres amid the heyday of college radio in the 1980s was that of the so-called, “Paisley Underground”. So dubbed due to the various bands’ pseudo-psychedelic tendencies, the scene included the early Bangles, Green On Red, TheDream Syndicate, The Three O’clock, and Rain Parade. The latter group imploded after a handful ofshimmering psych-pop albums, splintering into shards that would result in Opal, Mazzy Star, Viva Saturn, and the continuing solo career of guitarist Matt Piucci.
After indulging in a couple of side trips like an album with Tim Lee of The Windbreakers and serving time in the Neil Young-less Crazy Horse, Piucci has returned full circle to the kind of delicate, fuzzy pop he helped create almost two decades ago with Rain Parade. He even pays tribute to one of that band’s greatest influences with the closing track, “T. Rex”.
Helenes, in fact, would have made an excellent album by his original band (And is co-produced by fellow alumnus Steven Roback), but Piucci goes them one better by stripping away the psychedelic excess and filtering each tune down to a simple melodic core structure. No doubt influenced by his time with the gents in Crazy Horse, it surfaces most readily here on the Billy Talbot-produced, “Hopeless Case”.
Not always up front singing in Rain Parade, Piucci possesses a thin, airy tenor that dovetails nicely with the vaguely trippy songs such as, “Understand”, which sounds like Neil Young with a sitar. He isn’t really known for his singing voice, however. His guitar playing was typically the only thing that kept his other projects from sinking into languid, myopic daydreaming, and here it stands to the forefront on the more upbeat fare like, “Love Is Mine”, and the droning, “Drowning Man”, which asks the semi-rhetorical question, “What would you do, to save a drowning man?”
Piucci saves this album from following his prior work into meandering pointlessness with a couple of nifty pop songs-the irresistible acoustic air-guitar strum-along of, “Secret World”, and the more underhanded appeal of, “I Didn’t Mean to Make You Cry”, which is somewherre between Richard Buckner and Leonard Cohen on the self-absorbed crooner scale.
Probably not of much interest to anyone outside of former Rain Parade fanatics or off-course Crazy Horse fans, Helenes nonetheless does what it is supposed to-it maintains the feel, if not the overall quality, of Piucci’s best work with others.