Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Opal - Happy Nightmare Baby

I've kind of danced around posting something by Opal, having featured a couple things by Kendra Smith, and a cover of "Fell From the Sun" by The Pale Saints. Despite a slender--and it has to be said, spotty--discography, Opal is a band that casts a long shadow due to the exceptionally high quality of their good material. Nothing by the band is in print at the moment.

David Roback (formerly of The Rain Parade) and Kendra Smith (formerly of The Dream Syndicate) and drummer Keith Mitchell formed Clay Allison and released the spectacular single "Fell From The Sun" in 1983. The band soon changed its name to Opal and released two EPs, before releasing their sole LP, Happy Nightmare Baby on the SST label in 1987. Rough Trade later compiled the contents of the single and EPs on the Early Recordings LP.

Happy Nightmare Baby is a somewhat uneven album compared to the uniformly excellent material the group released previous to it. The album kicks off with a nice T-Rex tribute, "Rocket Machine," but things quickly get a little too "weird scenes inside the goldmine" for my taste on the awful second track, "Magick Power." Lyrics like "I'm a vampire, so is she" may have some appeal to Anne Rice fans, but I find their conjunction with the Ray Manzarek styled organ playing extremely off-putting. With such a wretched second track the temptation to lift the needle from the groove before the third track even starts is strong.

It would be unfortunate to do that however, because despite the slightly too-evident Doors influence that pervades the album, most of the rest of it is quite good. Especially strong is the title tune, "Happy Nightmare Baby," a psychedelic update of the Appalachian murder ballad. The song brings to mind such traditional fare as "Knoxville Girl" with a woman tripping on LSD as the deranged protagonist.

Kendra Smith left the band and recommended Hope Sandoval as her replacement, and the band either broke up or changed its name to Mazzy Star depending on how you look at it. And just as David St. Hubbins once observed that there is "a fine line between stupid and clever," Mazzy Star proved there is a fine line between drowsy and narcoleptic.

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