Tuesday, November 10, 2015

THEM: "The Story Of Them" (1997)

This showed up at the house one day in April of 1998, something I'd never seen or knew was out. Dad had a battered copy of their first album, which I honestly had never gotten around to listening to, but I always liked the picture on the front cover. I remember seeing this one way back at the Blue House, but wasn't sure what this was going to sound like. With the black and orange on the cover, was this going to be spooky? The guys on the cover sure looked threatening enough!

Quite a compilation, this one. It's a 2-CD set that has pretty much everything they ever recorded and/or released, and digitally remastered. And loud, too! Unfurling the little booklet in the CD...wow, what a history of this band that was only around for just a few years. So many different lineup changes, save for Van Morrison himself, and their bass player, Alan Henderson. I had no idea how many players had come and gone in such a short time, and I saw that they had a second album, Them Again, which I wasn't even aware of.

The first disc showcases the classic era, when they banged out hits like "Here Comes The Night", "Mystic Eyes" and the immortal "Gloria", which launched umpteen garage bands for years to come. But there were some great, bluesy tunes such as "All For Myself", "One More Time" and "Just A Little Bit", just to name a few. Why these guys weren't and aren't more revered is beyond me...this stuff kicked major ass. Raw, bluesy, snot-nosed R&B with Van howlin' and hollerin'...what's not to like?

A lot of the songs are heard in real stereo, though some of the songs may have been mixed later on when a similar-titled double-album compilation was compiled back in 1972. The two copies of the first album I have here are both in mono, so I can't comment on if the mixes on the stereo copies were really in stereo or not. But it is exciting to hear "Gloria" and "Here Comes The Night" in full, wide-open stereo. On the other hand, we have some songs where the song was in mono, but some extra added percussion instruments are added in the left channel, making them "stereo".

Apart from way too many lineup changes, one criticism about the band is the fact that they were often augmented by session musicians on their recordings. So maybe they were, but they sure had a great sound (at least in the beginning), and well-written tunes. Alan Henderson's bass playing was rock-solid, and he was the only one who was never replaced by a studio player. Or there's just plain old "I don't like Van Morrison", though that applies to either his music, his prickly personality, or both.

As for the second disc, there was not a whole lot to make me go back and listen to it. Their sound was a little too jazz-driven in places, not helped by poor production and less-than-stellar songwriting (especially on the ones not written by Van). The one cut well worth the price of admission was their version of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Great atmospheric piano fed through a tremolo unit that drives the song along.

Now, as 2015 comes to a close, there is a three-CD set coming out that not only features all of the above, but a third disc comprising of unreleased studio takes, demos and BBC radio sessions. Not only is this going to be bitchin', but it will be great to see and hear this stuff coming out again. Maybe they'll finally get the respect they finally deserve!

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