(P)review of Happy Nightmare Baby

by Claudio Sorge
issued on Rockerilla #82 (June 1987)

If today the dark side of L.A. is represented, whether you like it or not, by bands like Electric Peace, or by the new upsetters bound to the label SST (however you must select them carefully, in a sea of productions that aren't always original and new as someone will make you believe), the sweetest and sinuous side, expression of a vision of life again harmonious and reconciled to the reality of beautiful things, remaining within the sphere of the creative recovery of neo-psychedelia, of course, the brightest and positive side, I said, has the shining face of Opal.
Opal is a duet: David Roback, ex-guitarist of the Rain Parade and Kendra Smith, singer and bassist, formerly in the early Dream Syndicate (until the album The Days Of Wine And Roses)…
Happy Nightmare Baby is a masterpiece, there is no doubt about it. Nine pieces in all for a final work of extraordinary evocative strength; dazzling, at intervals, in its beauty.
Magik Power irradiates skin with the hypnotic warmth of Rain Parade's No Easy Way Down, passing through Pink Floyd's doors of A Saucerful Of Secrets. A striking example of modern psychedelia, a powerful fresco of lisergic colours and steep perspectives that shade into an infinite sky-blue… Relevation sees Kendra's faint and throbbing voice pet our senses with velvet gloves, spurring soft emotions like flocks, while Falling Star chooses an approach slightly harder (it reminds me the ripe Blue Cheer of New! Improved!, mostly for the use of guitar). But we don't feed on psychedelia solely, among the tracks of this album. The blues approaching triumphs in She's A Diamond, thanks to Kendra's smooth voice accompanied by Roback's wah-wah guitar, rival of Leigh Stephens and Randy Holden (who divided guitar-parts on Blue Cheer's album just mentioned).
The second side offers us too another sight of sounds and colours. Supernova (especially its melody) reminds me the obscure Syd Barrett of Mad Cap Laughs (the first sensational album by the great minstrel, released in 1970). I see again that grey striped room and a lonely man, bare-footed, whose look is the tragic and mysterious mask under that is hidden a mind peopled with nightmares and woes, that will collapse shortly after… Syd's soul lives in this murky jewel. Or maybe they're only suggestions… No, indeed! The mystery arises again in the next piece Siamese Trap and who is ensnared with no way out is definitively him, Syd Barrett; this time they aren't fancies: the air and the central guitar riff are evidently taken from No Man's Land, a song extracted always from Mad Cap Laughs. The whole is blended inside a brand new container, of course, where the ingredients aren't necessarily the same of Barrett's music. Here there is a woman who sings and you can hear… Rightly I was asking myself, plunged into listening, what has happened to those wonderful acoustic atmospheres, genuine oneiric musical pictures of a quiet segment cut out from the American folk universe, that deflagrated calmly in pieces like Northern Line when suddenly Happy Nightmare appeared and snatched my mind… Now the circle is complete.
Finally, Soul Giver (already listened on their last EP) seals the conclusion of one of the best albums of 1987. Undoubtedly. There are no words, in fact, for describing the very sweet tangle of sensations recalled by this music, the mantric flow of these notes, which seem slowly sewing on a very light dress made of marvellous harmonic arabesques and winding shapes…
Not only a masterpiece of neo-psychedelia, but also a record that everybody would have to listen to, at least once in a lifetime.

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