Friday, February 3, 2012

Them - Time Out Time In For Them (1969)


Them forged their hard-nosed R&B sound in Belfast, Northern Ireland, moving to England in 1964 after landing a deal with Decca Records. The band's simmering sound was dominated by boiling organ riffs, lean guitars, and the tough vocals of lead singer Van Morrison, whose recordings with Them rank among the very best performances of the British Invasion. Morrison also wrote top-notch original material for the outfit, whose lineup changed numerous times over the course of their brief existence. As a hit-making act, their résumé was brief -- "Here Comes the Night" and "Baby Please Don't Go" were Top Ten hits in England, "Mystic Eyes" and "Here Comes the Night" made the Top 40 in the U.S. -- but their influence was considerable, reaching bands like the Doors, whom Them played with during a residency in Los Angeles just before Van Morrison quit the band in 1966. Their most influential song of all, the classic three-chord stormer "Gloria," was actually a B-side, although the Shadows of Knight had a hit in the U.S. with a faithful, tamer cover version. 

Morrison recalled his days with Them with some bitterness, noting that the heart of the original group was torn out by image-conscious record company politics, and that sessionmen (including Jimmy Page) often played on recordings. In addition to hits, Them released a couple of fine albums and several flop singles that mixed Morrison compositions with R&B and soul covers, as well as a few songs written for them by producers like Bert Berns (who penned "Here Comes the Night"). After Morrison left the group, Them splintered into the Belfast Gypsies, who released an album that (except for the vocals) approximated Them's early records, and a psychedelic outfit that kept the name Them, releasing four LPs with little resemblance to the tough sounds of their mid-'60s heyday.


Them's second post-Van Morrison album, even more than their first such effort (Now & Them), grew further away from their mid-'60s style, to the point where there were few audible links to how Them sounded in the British Invasion era. And like Now & Them, it was an intermittently worthwhile but somewhat characterless record, reflecting late-'60s trends in album-oriented rock without adding much to them or innovating paths of their own. It was even more Los Angeles-psychedelia-influenced than their prior LP, taking the lead of Now & Them's strongest cut ("Square Room") to explore sitar-laden raga-rock on several songs. "Time Out for Time In" adds a nice waltz overlay to the raga-rock sound, but "Black Widow Spider" and "Just on Conception" frankly live up to the stereotypes of "oh wow!" hippie-trippy word soups from the era. So does "The Moth," but at least there some Roger McGuinn-like vocals and dreamy orchestration add spice. Other songs are competently done but nonstandout heavy soul rock, with "She Put a Hex on You" sounding right off the cutting room floor of a 1968 psychedelic dance rock club movie scene; you can just see the bandana-swathed babe from central casting gyrating as the strobe lights flash. "Waltz of the Flies," the best song, is indeed a beguiling psychedelic waltz, and Jim Armstrong's guitar work throughout is far more instrumentally accomplished than what you'll hear on many similar albums. Yet the record's not in the same league as either the Van Morrison-era Them or the better psychedelic/raga-rock endeavors of the late '60s. The 2003 Rev-Ola CD reissue adds eight bonus cuts (all taken from 45s) of value to anyone interested in the post-Van Morrison Them, including the non-LP single "Corinna"/"Dark Are the Shadows," the rare original single version of the punky "Dirty Old Man" (which is superior to the one on Now and Them), and the rare original 45 version of "Square Room" (which isn't as good as, and is much shorter than, the one on Now and Them).

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