'60s psychedelia purged of all whimsy, wonder, and utopian overtones, the Open Mind's heavy, druggy anthems foreshadowed 1970s hard rock
Released in 1969 by Philips, this London group’s sole album has long been an obscure collector’s item, revered as the apotheosis of the prog-psych that evolved out of the mid-1960s freakbeat sound typified by such bands as the Yardbirds, the Attack (who would transmogrify into pioneering prog-rock outfit Andromeda), and the Creation. Largely ignored by the record-buying public in its day (perhaps because of its dopey cover, featuring the band crawling out of a statue’s cracked skull -- get it?), the Open Mind made its reputation years later by the subsequent appearance of its non-LP single “Magic Potion” on any number of psych-rock compilations. (Happily, the track is also included on this reissue, along with its similar-sounding flip side, “Cast a Spell”, and a 1967 single issued when the band was still called the Drag Set.)
"Magic Potion" is psychedelia purged of all whimsy and wonder and utopian overtones; instead is a feeling of churning menace -- underscored by apocalyptic hoof-beat drumming, quasi-raga licks, and droning open-string riffs played through thick distortion and a truly toxic wah-wah -- that makes it hard to believe when singer Terry Martin bellows, “Upon my soul, I feel fine”. You get a sense of the incipient danger in “seeing things you never saw before”: you get the feeling these would not be cellophane flowers and marmalade skies, but something chthonic and unspeakable. On the whole, the song is unbelievably heavy without being ponderous, and seems like a prescient blueprint for late 1990s stoner rock.
The Open Mind didn’t have all that much range as songwriters, so all of the album’s songs are marked with the unmistakable sound that “Magic Potion” would perfect. The opening track, “Dear Louise”, has the same sinuous riffing and driving beat, but the distortion is dialed back and the chorus is sweetened (slightly) by rough group harmonies. “My Mind Cries” employs the same formula, but tosses in a piano to complement the rhythm playing, and “Can’t You See” tries a slightly slower tempo. “Try Another Day” retains the harmonies and features a slightly heavier guitar sound, but suffers from a poor mix -- the lead vocal doesn’t sink into the music they way it probably should.
On the record’s two longer songs, “I Feel the Same Way Too” and “Free as the Breeze”, things get slightly spookier. On the former, curdling falsetto verses about waking trees and weeping skies set the stage for a meandering middle section pilfered from Disraeli Gears. The latter is a simmering cauldron of mock sitar lines, pounding tom-toms, and chanted vocals about the soul, all culminating with a meditative guitar solo over processional drums. True to the band’s budding prog instincts (they would later disband to allow guitarist Mike Brancaccio to pursue his interest in jazz fusion), two songs adopt mythological themes: “Thor, the Thunder God” (which derives it riff from the Yardbirds' “Happenings Ten Years Ago Time”) and “Horses and Chariots”, which features flying steeds launching themselves into space, as well the album's silliest lyric: "I think I'll change myself into a dandelion and then I'll rest in the sun".
Admittedly, the album’s 12 songs end up sounding too much alike to make this a gripping listen all the way through, and the perfunctory lyrics are often little more than placeholders that permit harmonies to happen (though sometimes their bluntness can be surprisingly effective, as on “Soul and My Will”, in which the oft-repeated “I wanted you” refrain takes on a urgent desperation). And Brancaccio’s soloing at this point was fairly primitive -- he has nothing but interesting ideas in his bag of tricks, but they do start to lose their charm after being recycled several times. In small doses, however, the Open Mind’s distinctive style still satisfies -- it's hard rock before the cliches of the genre had a chance to harden.