It’s impossible to discuss the Heavy Heavy’s tart expanded debut Life and Life Only without referencing an obscure 1960s mod-psych band called the Action. Considered a significant influence by such rock legends as Paul Weller, Phil Collins, and Guided by Voices‘ Robert Pollard, the Action were discovered and signed by Beatles producer George Martin in 1965, but could never catch a break. After being dropped by the Parlophone label, most of their demo material went unseen and unheard for years. Yet somehow, they still became one of the first acts to bridge the crippling limitations of early mod rock, presaging the progressive/psychedelic future of the late ’60s.
From that perspective, it, therefore, makes sense that Brighton psych aficionados the Heavy Heavy would start with a cover of the Action’s finest single, 1968’s immortality anthem “Brain”, which finally saw the non-bootleg light of day in 1995. Covers rarely float our snooty boat, but this free 2020 download surpasses the rough original. “Remember me, remember me!” bellows lead singer Georgie Fuller, as though born and bred to hit those plaintive, mystical high notes with poise.
This newly expanded re-release of the Heavy Heavy’s debut, Life and Life Only, follows the same late-’60s psych muse right up to the line of distraction but absolutely does not cross it. Fuller and partner Will Turner know who and what they admire and are unabashed about letting the world know. This reviewer also freely concedes a lifelong weakness for male-female harmonies, which Life has in abundance – such as on the bluesy “Man of the Hills”, which crosses Jefferson Airplane’s twangy “Volunteers” with hard-boiled Joplinesque vocals to groovy effect.
On “Go Down River”, Turner channels his inner Dylan via repeated bittersweet intonations of “I’m no fool, babe”, and the backing beat and harmonies could have come straight out of a Motown hit. “Sleeping on Grassy Ground’s” centerpiece is a grand imitation of Clare Torry’s unforgettable moaning lament from Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, and it’s a respectable imitation.
The good news continues. “Miles and Miles” is the hardest rocker of the bunch, swinging like a breathless 1970s Clapton riff spread over an entire song. The album finale “Why Don’t You Call” may last barely two minutes, but the jaunty ’60s keyboard/guitar mix is an absolute hoot and would make the Doors’ Ray Manzarek proud.
As a whole, the strength of this starry debut lies in its refusal to hew to a single 1960s music style. Instead, it mashes up soul, psych, mod, and a tinge of eerie folk to create a blended sound that might be thrillingly at odds with today’s pop charts but would sound perfectly at home busting the rock conventions of half a century past. This is exuberant, well-crafted, sing-along music with zero pretensions. The Action forged the same path way back when, even if nobody appreciated them at the time; a shame most of humanity will never experience the Heavy Heavy either, even if we really should.
While not part of the album proper, be sure to grab the free “Brain” download on Bandcamp.com and tack it on for history’s sake. Unmissable.