The Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow (1968)

One of the essential half-dozen or so albums of the late 60s UK psychedelia canon -- alongside Sgt. Pepper, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Satanic Majesties, Ogdens' Nut and Odessey & Oracle -- the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow seems to get a lot less love in the public consciousness.  And to be fair, the album is pretty damn weird, lacking the pop chops of the Beatles and the Zombies, and the whimsy of Barrett-era Pink Floyd.  As a concept album (sometimes hailed as the first of its kind, predating The Who's Tommy), it's hardly coherent; if there's a story or theme here, I have yet to figure it out.  Still, the album is an exciting listen, a headphone-friendly romp that offers some terrific songs and truly trippy vibes.

Like the Stones and the Small Faces (and, to a lesser extent, the Kinks and the Who), the Pretty Things started out as a fairly boisterous R&B band, before embracing a more British pop sound (on 1967's Emotions, a close cousin to the Kinks' Face to Face) and, in the wake of Sgt. Pepper, a more explicitly experimental, psychedelic sound.  While the evolution was common for bands of the era, the artistic leap they made was pretty dramatic, and far more successful than, say, the Stones.  

The album is pretty varied stylistically, utilizing harmonies, interesting instrumentation, and melodic weirdness to different degrees.  Opening track "S.F. Sorrow Is Born" is fairly straightforward, a perky, poppy gem.  But then things get weird; you've got the complex, Eastern-influenced "Bracelets of Fingers"; freakbeat garage rock of "She Says Good Morning"; the trippy guitar wail of "Balloon Burning"; the minor psychedelic masterpiece "Baron Saturday," with its creepy vocals and drugged-out instrumental interlude; more psychedelic explorations in "I See You"; the gorgeous melodicism of "Trust"; and ultimately the acoustic, melancholy closing piece "Loneliest Person."  

A few tracks don't quite succeed, but for the most part it's pretty whacked out and fascinating, a respectable companion piece to Floyd's Piper; much of the adventurousness signals a move into a more prog rock direction (though the Pretties ended up abandoning that path, instead spending the ensuing decade as more of a hard rock boogie band).  As the Stones had discovered with Satanic Majesties, the band's earlier bluesy roots don't necessarily mesh with the more whimsical demands of British psychedelia, but whereas the Stones album often sounded more like a parody of Sgt. Pepper, the Pretties use their roots to give the material a more threatening, harder edge, the album often sounding like it's about to verge into a much scarier place before coming back down to earth.

Most CD issues are well-served by the addition of a few contemporaneous singles; "Defecting Grey" and "Mr. Evasion" are among the best songs of the band's psychedelic era and fit in well with the rest of the album.

Here's a lip-sync tv performance of "Baron Saturday":
Here's a very odd lip-sync performance of "Private Sorrow" on French tv:
And here's a reunited band performing "I See You" live in 2018 (with David Gilmour):