|**image1***Britpop? Shitpop. That was a grim scene. Thank Liverpool for Mick Head. The Magical World of the Strands dates from 1997 and isn’t like anything from that time, drawing principally on Love for its introspective, psychedelic inspiration. And heroin. As ‘X Hits The Spot’ not so subtly describes - “what’s happened to all my clothes, what’s happened to all my furniture, it just can’t disappear!” - Mick Head was getting into an addiction that would cost him years of creativity as well as his possessions. The dreamy wooziness and sense of sadness to the songs might have something to do with the brown or it just might be down to his exquisite songwriting skills, as also displayed over many years in the Pale Fountains and Shack.
The songs still stand up as beautifully orchestrated pieces of folk pop with an incredible sense of melody that owe much to Arthur Lee, Bacharach and David and Nick Drake (although Mick Head was once described as “the George Michael of psychedelia”). His external life might have been tarnished but his inner musical life had a romantic glow, as the baroque-pop of ‘Queen Matilda’, adorned with Les Brown’s lush acid-folk flute, makes clear, as well as the hazy, strange ‘And Luna’ (about Arthur Lee). The banjo-driven ‘Hocken’s Hey’ is vivid and jaunty but the album’s closer ‘Fontilan’ casts mournful shadows, with folky anaesthetised rhythms that sounds beautiful but utterly tragic.
The album comes with an additional album of material collected and remixed when assembling the reissue in 2014. It doesn’t feel like an album though, more like a collection of bits and pieces that are interesting but not essential. Best of them is the Searchers jingle-jangle of ‘Poor Jill’ which could have been on The Magical World but wasn’t, and ‘Lizzie Mullally’, which was judged not to fit the album but released a decade later, which was 10 years wasted in my view. There is a feeling of career carelessness when it comes to the Strands, and this album should have had greater impact in 1997 but, almost 20 years later, we’re seeing it for the gem it was, while most of their then-contemporaries are just bad memories.