What made the Beta Band interesting for about 25 minutes was a loose-fitting approach to both Brit-pop and beats. They made a great stoned organic racket, and if they’d left it alone after the first three EPs, you’d think they were fantastic. (And you’d think that all those indie kids in the UK who took pills and started listening to dance music finally got something right.) But no, they kept tinkering with the formula — resulting in two aimless albums whose mixture of hip-hop and psych-folk went from vital to irrelevant in the time it takes to loop a Harry Nilsson track.
Gordon Anderson, aka Lone Pigeon, was part of the Beta Band’s clique during its vital period. He cowrote some of the group’s best songs, like “Dry the Rain” and “Dog’s Got a Bone.” The story goes that an unspecified “illness” forced him out of the band, and now we are finally privy to his folkish sketches that are likely to conjure up the ghosts of Syd Barrett and Skip Spence in their ability to show a man in all of his scattershot, wounded glory. If you can imagine the rural looseness of Paul McCartney’s first album mixed in with dashes of Badly Drawn Boy’s AM pop and a little bit of music-hall high jinks, then you’ve got an idea of what this album could have been through and through.
Unfortunately it takes more than a fractured singsong voice with an acoustic guitar to create a haunted musical effigy for souls lost at sea. Certainly a former member of the Beta Band is no match for a guy who ate acid by the barrelful and played shows with his hair congealed with Mandrax and Brylcreem, or a guy who attacked his bandmates with an axe (and not just any axe — a fire axe). Not to sell this release completely short: There are tracks here that use simple, unnerving fragility and melody in a way that is both inventive and enrapturing. But too often the album is caught up in mimicry — and mimicry that prides itself upon its supposedly effortless brilliance, at that. No doubt Gordon Anderson has a great record collection, but the seeds of a great record have yet to be sown.