Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape
(Columbia / Legacy)
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2007, Volume 14, #6
Written by John Metzger
Thu June 14, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Without a doubt, there are nearly as many underrated bands as there are overrated ones, but the outfit that is, perhaps, most unjustly forgotten is Moby Grape. Issued 40 years ago at the height of the "summer of love," the group’s self-titled debut is a long-lost classic that frequently finds its way onto critics’ lists of the best rock outings ever made. Poised at the crossroads between country and blues but heavily dosed with the lysergic giddiness of ’60s pop, the album not only served as the link that connected Buffalo Springfield with Jefferson Airplane, but it also bound British Invasion acts like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Who to the folk-rock of Crosby, Stills and Nash, the testifying soul of Otis Redding, and the jam-friendly madness of the Grateful Dead. It was, in a sense, a remarkably effective distillation of the times in which it was created, so much so that it likely wouldn’t have been able to sustain itself forever.
Culling six tracks from Moby Grape’s eponymous endeavor, Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape — the latest retrospective from the group — begins superbly, thus offering a passing glimpse at the band’s splendid magnificence. The ensemble’s multi-part harmonies and its tangled, triple-guitar attack are on full display during the manic gallop of Hey Grandma as well as the ethereally beautiful 8:05. Indifference careens wildly through its tempo shifts without sounding jarringly disjointed, and baked under the California sun, Omaha is a blast of intensely writhing, psychedelic fervor.
So why, then, does Moby Grape remain so overlooked? Its problems began almost immediately when Columbia Records undermined the group’s credibility by simultaneously issuing five singles from its self-titled set. At a time when the youth of America collectively were questioning those in authority, such a move could only be viewed with extreme skepticism. Nevertheless, Moby Grape might have succeeded in overcoming such a poor management decision, if only it hadn’t begun to wrestle with an array of internal problems. Most famously, Skip Spence ingested massive amounts of LSD and succumbed to mental illness, though the ensemble’s legal battles — which revolved around the teenage groupies that had been immortalized on Hey Grandma — as well as the disintegration of its relationship with manager Matthew Katz also proved to be distracting.
Granted, some of the cuts from its sophomore set Wow — the bristling boogie of the horn-splattered Can’t Be So Bad; the shimmering, operatic, Roy Orbison-esque drama of Bitter Wind; and the acid-folk introspection of He, for example — held merit, but the bulk of Moby Grape’s subsequent work was tremendously erratic. Although Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape nobly makes an attempt to minimize the immense fluctuations in the quality of the collective’s later efforts, the material that was taken from Moby Grape ’69 and Truly Fine Citizen can’t hide how much the band was faltering. Instead, it unintentionally demonstrates how stagnant Moby Grape had become. As it winds through its remaining 14 tracks, Listen My Friends! The Best of Moby Grape grows increasingly redundant, and mirroring the downfall of the ensemble’s career, these lesser excursions ultimately fail both to fulfill and to extend the promise of the songs that were plucked from Moby Grape’s self-titled debut. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box