One of last year's best stories involved the re-discovery of the music of Rick Corcoran as The Orgone Box (by Bill Forsyth of London's Minus Zero Records). That great D.I.Y. psych-pop masterpiece handily made my top 10 of 2001, but left me wondering what was next. After all, that great music was from 1995 -- I couldn't wait to hear what Corcoran had been up to since then.
While an exciting new release from The Orgone Box has arrived, my questions shall yet remain unanswered. To my surprise, this follow-up to that 1995 release again looks backward. This is a collection of 14 unreleased Corcoran songs originally recorded between 1990-1995. I suppose it does make sense after all -- out with the old before ringing in the new.
As with any collection of older and unpublished material, it begs the question -- why? One first makes the assumption that this must be lesser quality, a collection of Corcoran's castaways, so to speak. However, this is not the case. I can't speak as to why this music hasn't made it to disc previously, but I can vouch for its high quality -- if this is Corcoran's slush pile, it still trumps many other artists' best efforts.
Things That Happened Then manages to provide both more and less than its predecessor. It is a solid listen, delivering nearly one full hour's worth of entertaining musical tracks. However, it lacks some of the studio polish of the first disc, as most of these songs were recorded on four-tracks (though some have been bounced to eight-tracks and punched-up with extra enhancements).
Still, Corcoran retains a magic touch for producing melodic pop classics that convincingly capture the sonic jangle of the mid-to-late 1960s era, only informed and updated by the modern man behind the tunes. While some of these songs are merely demos (and others are more fully realized), this is well structured psychedelic Brit pop with incredible guitar sounds. On the whole, it manages to transcend the aural limits of low fidelity through the sheer strength of its songwriting ideas.
With this set, Corcoran proves that the first Orgone Box collection was no fluke. Even without the finished luster and dynamics, these songs will take up residence in your head for many days to come, subtly working their way into your subconscious.
"Last Ride on the Jets" has more of that great guitar, fine bass and wonderful fills that seem second nature to Corcoran. This is a lyrical call to one and all to feel life to the fullest ("I don't want to be a passionless bystander bored to tears with my own life"), even if it's not always pleasant ("I need sad sad sad / it gives me identity"). The sound effects were gotten off the radio and TV; Martin Sheen adds narration to the middle eight from Apocalypse Now.
"Just Like a Woman" is the one studio track of this collection, co-produced with the late Gus Dudgeon after Corcoran's Orange had broken up. This delicate and infectious ballad dates back to the late 1980s (according to Corcoran), a slower-tempo love song to that one special woman and her whims and moods, etc. Corcoran's vocals (particularly the "Oh, and . . ." leading into the middle bridge) are very Beatle-esque.
"Everybody's a Star" opens with a thick psychedelic riff (reminding me something of The Dukes of Stratosphear's "Mole of the Ministry"), yet transitions into another melody (in typical complex Orgone Box song structure style). It's a song all about the fantasies of youth and the desire to be more, executed well by Corcoran who manages to weave a great tapestry between guitars, lead and backing vocals.
When you hear "Hard for Me", you'll be convinced that Corcoran channeled the spirit of a young John Lennon. This is The Orgone Box as mid-era Beatles, no question, a pretty pop love song originally recorded on four-tracks, then bounced to eight with additional acoustic guitar, tambourine, harmony vocal and harmonica added.
It amazes me what Corcoran achieves with limited tracks here. Another Beatle nod is found in "All the Losers", wherein Revolver-era guitars swirl and fill the spaces between the harmonies. It's a full sonic experience that takes on class distinctions achieved with only tracks of two guitars, bass and drums.
There's no shortage of love songs here, and Corcoran serves up another pleasant four-tracker with "Wonderful Mind", a testament to the cerebral aspect of his overwhelming feeling ("such a wonderful mind / I love the soul out of you"). Spare bongo percussion gives this one a bit of an Eastern flair.
Corcoran claims the title track is "one of the first good songs I ever wrote". It opens with dramatic chimes of the guitar, appropriately leading in to a highly emotional personal tale about memories of parents fighting and the feeling of wanting to "runaway forever" in response, how such memories change you for a lifetime. "Things That Happened Then" is another great one.
Byrds-like guitars and a powerful bass that seems to have a life of its own limn the edges of another superb four-tracker, "Cheerfully Hopeless". This is song as explanation, sung in the wake of hurting someone he loves the morning after: "I'd rather be predictable and boring than someone who could hurt you / all I really need is you to understand me / you're the only one who can". Another personal "bare it all" lyric, comfortably ensconced within tuneful surroundings.
One older song recorded on eight-tracks (with guitars and vocals added in only last year) is the haunting ballad "Mom I Can Fly". This musical suicidal confession of an inability to cope actually is based on how people used to jump off the Kelvin high-rise flats in Sheffield.
The more upbeat "Hello Wonderland" dates back to the time when Corcoran was a member of the Green Tambourines. This is the related thrill of moving with a band to the big city of London, complete with shimmering guitars.
Recessed vocals, heavy on the reverb dominate "Bestbird", a song with guitars that seem more out of the 1980s or 1990s, relating a drive to better one's self in the interest of getting and obtaining the elusive "best bird in town". "Storytime" has a sort of "Norwegian Wood" feel to its verses, and could pass for a John Lennon demo from years ago. Unusual elements included here are a voice saying "one two three, coming ready or not" and a music box rendition of "How Much Is That Doggy in the Window".
A moodier contemplative Corcoran is found on the track "Barbican", bemoaning some bad experiences, one being a trip to Brighton to meet up with a friend who was opening for Procol Harum. Corcoran gets some amazing sounds by playing a Casio through his guitar pedals, but I particularly like how he takes a certain vindictive epithet and makes it sound positively endearing (no "fook").
The CD closes with another catchy mid-tempo number "Life Happening", a song raging against the daily grind that asks for life to be more fun, rather than "something to just do". Corcoran as The Orgone Box has a knack for making new from the old, and making it sound completely genuine in the process. With Things That Happened Then he delivers on his debut's promise with another astounding collection of psychedelic Britpop of the highest order. Fans of Revolver-era Beatles or the likes of Cotton Mather will be favorably disposed toward this one as well.
Corcoran manages to get a lot out of his songs, regardless of how many tracks are at his disposal. He obviously excels at writing (and performing) well-crafted melodies and isn't afraid to let his lyrics get personal and revealing. If these are his early songs, one can only imagine the grandeur of the hypothetical progression since. So come on Rick -- please let us hear what you've been writing since 1995, okay? Inquiring pop minds are more than eager to know.