The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow (1968)
This is one of the more recent additions to my collection; I only bought it a couple of months ago and have, before today, only listened to it a couple of times. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it was released and, like a few albums from that era, was only recognised by the world as an important record of its time some decades later. Released the same week as The Beatles’ “White” Album and another truly great album which virtually got ignored at the time, The Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society”, “S. F. Sorrow” is reputedly the first rock opera, ever. It tells the story of Sebastian F. Sorrow from birth (“S.F. Sorrow Is Born”) to his demise, via work, love (“She Says Good Morning”), war (“Private Sorrow”), the death of his fiancée (“Balloon Burning” and “Death”), psychedelic trips (“Baron Saturday”), self-discovery (“The Journey” and “I See You”) and depression (“Loneliest Person”).
It’s certainly a very innovative piece of work and was a ground-breaking album at the time in terms of structure and ambition. Do I actually think it’s any good, though? Well, I certainly don’t think it’s one of the greatest albums of all time, as many people seem to. Musically, it’s a little uninspiring and repetitive in places and its real appeal lies in the rich, interesting lyrics, although some songs stand out such as “Private Sorrow” which has a Jethro Tull feel to it, the bouncy “Baron Saturday” has a great hook and “Loneliest Person” has a vulnerable pathos which makes it the easiest song on the whole album to connect with on an emotional level. Oddly enough, the bonus tracks on my CD edition, such as the early Pink Floyd-sounding “Defecting Grey” and the more straight-forward poppy psychedelia of “Walking Through My Dreams” are amongst the most enjoyable tracks on this re-issue.
I suppose, when it comes down to it, there are other albums and groups from the same era I much prefer. The Small Faces’ “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”, for example, has the same eccentric creativity but manages to be more enjoyable, The Zombies’ “Odyssey and Oracle” has a greater melodic appeal to it, The Kinks’ “Village Green Preservation Society” captures the human condition more effectively, The Move’s debut, “Move” managed to be heavy, psychedelic but also more musically rich than this album and, let’s face it, The Beatles’ “White Album” is just plain better. So, no, I don’t think this album is a masterpiece, certainly when you compare it to what else was around at the time but I definitely like it and there is plenty I appreciate on a creative level. I just wish that appreciation translated into an actual tangible love for “S.F. Sorrow”, but, quite honestly, I don’t truly love it and I doubt I ever will.