Monster in a Box
Apparently, the people at Castle Music have a different vision of what would construe the “ultimate” Tremeloes collection. In my vision, the ultimate collection would be a single disc containing about 18 to 20 songs, detailing the best work from the Tremeloes’ ‘60s recordings, complete with a detailed booklet pointing out the significance of these particular songs. Castle Music’s vision of the “ultimate” collection is a three-disc anthology covering the Tremeloes career from the ‘60s through the early ‘80s, containing 82 songs that cover some four hours of listening time, and has a mere five-paragraph capsule of the Tremeloes’ apparently long lasting career. The resulting Here Comes My Baby: The Ultimate Collection is impressive, irritating, and baffling all at once.
The first question that this collection immediately poses is whether anybody needs to own a three-CD anthology of the Tremeloes, given the fact that they were a rather third-tier band in the British Invasion, and have all of two hits in the U.S.? True enough, their version of Cat Stevens’s “Here Comes My Baby” is one of those classic sad songs sung to a peppy beat, sort of the ironic counterpoint to the Left Banke’s more earnest “Walk Away Renee”. “Silence Is Golden”, their biggest hit, retains its almost choir-like beauty despite, or maybe because of, the fact that it is constantly in danger of falling into a complete syrupy mess. Heck, I’ll even give the Tremeloes partial credit for the minor hit “Even the Bad Times Are Good”, a rollicking slab of Merseybeat joy. Keep in mind, that those account for three songs out of 82, there are 79 more songs on this collection. Is this overkill?
The answer is, of course it is, not even the Tremeloes’ immediate family would really need this much Tremeloes material. That question is, however, irrelevant, because the darn thing exists, and it will (presumably) be bought. In absence of throrough liner notes, Here Comes My Baby has only its material to attempt to rejuvenate interest in this semi-forgotten band. The collection, ultimately, consists of heaps of evidence, some presenting the Tremeloes in a positive light and others presenting them in an entirely negative one, presented to the jurors/listeners, without any arguments to sway them one way or another.
The first disc is the one that shows why the Tremeloes deserve more attention than they’ve gotten. Beginning after their break-up with former frontman Brian Poole (yes, this collection could have been even longer), the disc starts up with “Here Comes My Baby” and doesn’t really swerve too much in quality from then on out. The Tremeloes were a rather faceless group, never quite finding a sound of their own (their two major hits, after all, sound nothing alike), but they stuck around the same musical area, a thoroughly AM pop sensibility that was tempered with a few light touches of the hipper music of the time period. They were unafraid to end an otherwise light weight proto-twee number like “Let Your Hair Hang Low” with a fuzzy, righteous guitar solo, or incorporate a little Revolver-esque psychedelia into their otherwise inoffensive brew on “Suddenly Winter”. The Tremeloes were firmly notched on the pop side of the pop-rock continuum, and their inoffensive yet meticulously detailed sound will please devotees of the concurrent sunshine pop and baroque pop movements.
I think it’s somewhere around the second disc where things fall apart for the Tremeloes. While they still are working in the same general parameters, the Tremeloes were growing a little stale, and were relying more and more on cover songs. While Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” is in inspired choice for the fresh-faced band, and their rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” compares favorably with the Tokens rendition, they lose their way on their covers of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. The Tremeloes take on “I Shall Be Released” is not horrendous, but their sugary harmonies defang Dylan’s lyrics. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is an unmitigated disaster, a perfect candidate for a compilation of the worst Motown covers ever recorded. The dreadfully English Tremeloes attempt to duplicate Levi Stubb’s souring passion and the precise rhythms of the Funk Brothers, resulting in what might be the exact opposite of soul music.
Around this time, the Tremeloes alienated their audience by releasing a “mature” album, Master. Actually, it was less the album that alienated their audience, than the band itself when they referred to their fanbase as “idiots” for liking their early pop material. (Again, this detail had to be found on other sources, since it didn’t find space in the five paragraphs of liner notes.) Without an audience, and surviving apparently solely on brief appearances on the mainland European charts, the Tremeloes lasted over a decade longer, changing sounds based on the popular trends of the day. It’s really kind of sad to see a competent, if rarely inspired, pop band attempting to unnaturally extend its lifespan by releasing half-baked soul instrumentals (“Instant Whip”), rockabilly goofs (“Breakheart Motel”), and absolutely wrongheaded attempts at glam rock (“Blue Suede Tie”). Here Comes My Baby‘s third disc documents this slow and painful decline, in far too much detail, and maintains a sort of car wreck appeal. Unfortunately, by the time the synthesizers kick in on the last few tracks detailing their ‘80s material, even this appeal is all but worn out.
After listening to this compilation, I’m reminded of the concept of “communicative entropy” that Thomas Pynchon discussed in his short story “Entropy”, the idea that the more information you have, the less you know. Before listening to this compilation, I had a pretty solid idea about who the Tremeloes were, but, now that I have taken a few listens to Here Comes My Baby, I really have no clue what this band was trying to do. With such a massive amount of material, and no filter available, I have an urge to toss away all the other albums slated to be reviewed, and just devote myself, day in and day out, in digging through all these songs, trying to make some sense of this indigestible chunk of sound. Come to think of it, that’s the sort of impulse you should have when truly faced with an ultimate collection.