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Listening Report: Take A Time Trip Back To 2000 With Tripping Daisy

Mark Smotroff likes the sound of a flower just before it’s about to bloom…

In the history of popular music there is usually a lineage – usually before “the fame” and sometimes after – underlying an artist’s success. It is usually a trail worth following to gain a better appreciation for the performer.

For example most Beatle fans know that before their big hits the group went through numerous incarnations beginning as The Quarrymen. Hearing those raw early pre-fame recordings of the nascent Beatles made in Germany at the Star Club in 1962 offer a great insights into just how incredible they were even as a struggling bar band trying to break in to the music business.

If you are a fan of Neil Finn and his group Crowded House, you really need to hear the music he made with his older brother’s earlier band called Split Enz. Joe Strummer of The Clash first had a band called The 101ers. To fully appreciate new wave pop song-smiths Nick Lowe and Graham Parker, track down recordings by a group called Brinsley Schwarz from the early 1970s, way before the whole punk/new wave movement.  Lowe was in that band which recorded his original version of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding,” later made famous by Elvis Costello; other members of that group went on to form Graham Parker’s backing band, The Rumor.  If you like Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra it is essential to hear his early work with The Move and The Idle Race.

That said, if you are a fan of The Polyphonic Spree you should explore founder Tim DeLaughter’s original group called Tripping Daisy. I have their second album, I Am An Elastic Firecracker, which had their first bit hit “I Got A Girl” (which had some play on MTV back in the mid-90s). Their sound rode the light trip-tastic between the bare nerves of Nirvana and the progressive angst of The Pixies — loud-soft guitars, hooky sing-a-long choruses and more than a bit of punk attitude with just a hint of country twang.

Yet even by the fifth track (“Motivation”) you can hear the progressive proto-Spree-like psychedelic pop elements creeping in — they even break out what sounds like an “E-Bow,” a device which puts a wonderful Robert Fripp-like guitar sustain in the palm of most any guitarist’s hand. “Trip Along” could be a Polyphonic Spree song. Yet, Tripping Daisy was a mere rock ’n roll quintet compared to the Spree’s orchestral scale (18-20 performers on a given stage)

Tripping Daisy‘s eponymously titled fourth album has been re-issued by the Good Records label and the package is deluxe in every way. While there were colored vinyl versions available from their website (click here), I ordered the 180 gram “audiophile” edition on nice thick black vinyl. the discs are mastered to spin at 45 RPM for best possible fidelity and are happily very quiet, well centered and very glossy (the stuff vinyl audiophiles tend to like, in case you are wondering why I mention that, Dear Readers). The packaging is also deluxe with a beautiful gatefold cover design plus posters, a sticker, full color printed inner sleeves (as well as audiophile grade plastic lined sleeves) and a Japanese style “OBI” like banner wrapper. 

All that would be for naught if the music on Tripping Daisy wasn’t any good but the reality is this album is pretty great. Honestly, if you had played me this blindfolded, after the opening one-two-punch of “Community Mantra” and “Kids Are Calling” I would have thought it was another Polyphonic Spree album! At times it reminds me of the last album of originals the Spree issued, Yes, It’s True (which I reviewed, click here)

“Soothing Jubilee” feels like an homage to Hunky Dory era Bowie, replete with a chorus that makes you want to hold your hands up and sway back and forth  (think Mott The Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes,” which Bowie wrote and produced).

Sorry, kids…  no cigarette lighters are included… 

I just adore the song title “Tragiverse,” perhaps a great sound track for the much hyped meta-verse. “I Am Good” is a bitter-sweetly hopeful hushed waltz and after the trippy mood interlude of “This Cradle Song,” the infectious-chugging “Foot Dance” instrumental makes you want to get up again to dance around the room or out into the street. 

In someways I can understand why Tripping Daisy’s original record label might have had trouble marketing them back in the day. This is not a criticism, but on the surface they do sound at times like a slightly less quirky version of what The Flaming Lips were doing around that time. Yet, if you know both bands they sound nothing like one another. The similarity does revolve around singer/songwriter Tim DeLaughter’s voice which falls squarely in that same impassioned universe akin to Neil Young. 

Personally, I like that intersection… and I often wonder what would happen if The Lips and The Spree and Neil all got together on the same bill. It could be epic!

Of course the big question comes to mind as to whether you really need to buy this Tripping Daisy record or not? If you are a fan of The Polyphonic Spree, chances are you have some of their records. But… if you’re a fan of Neil Young and The Flaming Lips and haven’t listen to either of these groups, then you might want invest the time to explore them as there are a many riches you might enjoy. 

And there is the point of this review: more people should be listening to Tripping Daisy and The Polyphonic Spree!

You can hear Tripping Daisy streaming in CD quality on services like Tidal (click here), Qobuz (click here) and Apple Music (click here).   

‘Nuff said. Go listen. 

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