Regal Zonophone 1969 / Esoteric 2015
Electrically charged: psyched-up classic gets an expanded looking in.
Hailed as an unsung guitar hero of British rock, Mick Wayne’s claim to fame should have lain with this band rather than accompanying David Bowie on “Space Oddity”; instead, it’s the EYES’ sole LP, produced by Tony Visconti, that became a cult curio. Bearing an obscure concept on one suite-like side and resorting to separate songs on the other, where the rave-up “Freak In” serves as a call to action, now this album is put in wider context, as the second disc of the set adds singles, demos and a BBC session to the canon. More so, here’s a ’45 from THE TICKLE, a sandbox of sorts for the “Battersea” ideas.
One of their songs, “Good Evening,” shoots acid-drenched guitar shards into an orchestral backdrop and vocal harmonies, and that’s what get distilled and solidified on the EYES’ menacing “Black Snake” and “Circus Days” which opens the album after a mood-shaping introductory noise. In their turn, “Sink Or Swim” – peppered by African percussion and spiked with a jug band histrionics – and “White Light” roll out even edgier rhythm-and-blues given a jolt by Graham Kelly’s voice. But while “By The Tree” shakes its shredding in a live situation, the multilayered “Playtime” offers a dose of heaviness.
The dynamic tension between John Lodge’s bass and Wayne’s electric dance is intensified on the six-minute “Imagination,” although the piece’s sketch has more texture thanks to its acoustic, flamenco inspired lace, yet there’s a different kind of natural timbre. It comes from Rick Wakeman‘s piano on “Miss Lizzie” whose shift from a vaudeville tune to a hymnal lyricism reveals the possibilities the band could pursue had they moved from psych to prog peeking out of the organ-stoked riff of “So Embarrassed” with its web of slide lines. They might be quietly unplugged, too, as the short “I’m Drowning” shows, yet the ensemble’s future clearly lay in hard rock… only there was no future as, albeit most of the players continued to perform, the EYES were shut in 1970 for good.