The Flower Machine: Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company

[13 October 2004]

By Jason Thompson

The Sixties Are Gone? Really?!

There is probably a small group of people that really enjoy this album. I say small because the sound of The Flower Machine is so niche and borrowed that I can’t imagine too many people getting out of bed for this one. Of course, niche fans are a funny bunch, and I can vividly see in my mind’s eye those who did go gaga over this disc really really getting worked up about it. After all, the damn thing’s drenched in ‘60s psychedelic puffiness without having the slightest feeling that any of it is genuine. Look, suffice it to say that The Dukes of Stratosphear thing has already been done and it was done quite well. This was years ago, and even XTC knew when enough was enough.

But I have to say that it really chaps my ears when I have to sit and listen to some modern group try to be cute and cuddly, and as if they just stepped off of Carnaby Street having sampled a little of that demon LSD. Oh, my! Lyrics featuring such whimsical elements as marshmallows and coelacanths! And a Mellotron leading the way? Surely you jest! That is so original! I wish I could count the number of indie bands out there having tried and failed at this kind of absurdity. Jesus, even Paul McCartney gave up this stuff after Magical Mystery Tour.

So I blame The Beatles. Why not? After all, Sgt. Pepper is responsible for so much of the terrible psychedelic pop rock that came after. Too much influence can definitely be a bad thing. And if I have to feel the repercussions of “I Am The Walrus” in 2004 coming from a new band, then I say it’s definitely time to reevaluate the Fab Four. Certainly they did more harm than good in the long run, no? I can’t say that I honestly don’t yearn for the day when Sgt. Pepper isn’t looked back upon as this wondrous marvel, though I do enjoy the album. Were not other people pushing pop rock into new territory before that LP? Of course they were. Take Frank Zappa for instance. Or don’t. He certainly didn’t take The Beatles at the time.

I also want to blame Pink Floyd. Well, Syd Barrett era Floyd. Because that’s who The Flower Machine is really aping here in so many notes. Look, I’ve never been one of those people that thought Syd was a genius. He had some interesting bits, but like all rock drug casualties, he was a waste. Sitting around contemplating what could have been nearly 40 years after the fact is pointless. So is recording songs like “Live Oak Road” and “In The Glow” that sound like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn puked up with “Feelin’ Groovy”. Let me tell you, lead Machine member Peter Quinnell, the kids today would still rather have the genuine artifact, even if that thought is rather suppressive in itself, than this hodgepodge of spot-the-influence tedium.

Hasn’t enough time passed that we can successfully take the present and forge new sounds? Why must we always look back upon the late ‘60s as some kind of musical oasis that can never be tarnished? The fact of the matter is so much garbage did come out at that time, but everyone was so in love with Pepper and Piper that it was instantly forever set in stone that this shit could not be touched. Well, despite what the people who still can’t get over “A Day in the Life” and “The Gnome” may tell you, this moldy old rock can certainly be bettered. Trust me, I went through the whole idolization of those sounds as much as anyone else. What did I find at the end of it? Simply that that music of the time, while good and creative and such, certainly isn’t the end of the line.

I’d also like to blame Donovan here. The Flower Machine tends to veer into sickly cuteness at times on musical clinkers like “Why Not Stop and Have Some Tea” and “It’s So Nice” that I can think of no one else to point the finger at other than the dope who peddled “Mellow Yellow”. Quite rightly, I might add. Apparently no one learned that when Dylan effectively squashed ol’ Donovan in that party scene in Don’t Look Back, that everyone else should have realized what a goof he was. The Flower Machine didn’t, however.

This is all very cranky, I know, but the fact is that the ‘60s can certainly be distilled into much more entertaining pop than what is offered here. Even the pretentious album title is irritating. Look, I lived through a chunk of the ‘70s, and of course all of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and every time a wave of nostalgia comes around for any of those times, there’s that hint of nausea just around the corner. I think it’s safe to say that if Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Factory doesn’t cause dry heaves, it does at the very most give one the urge to stick their finger down their throat. Enough, I say, of this boring rip-off sound. The ‘60s are over. The Walrus has long been dead.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/flowermachine-chalk/