Various Artists – 3×4
The careers of the bands at the heart of the Paisley Underground found very different trajectories soon after the Los Angeles movement’s early 1980s heyday. Rain Parade quickly splintered, spawning a bevy of solid projects (Opal, Mazzy Star, Viva Saturn) while The Bangles became multi-platinum icons. The Dream Syndicate made its own lunge at the brass ring before imploding, while The Three O’Clock soldiered on longer, aligned for a time with an altogether different Paisley benefactor.
All four bands eventually reunited – in The Dream Syndicate’s case it was a more a re-branding for the perpetually active Steve Wynn – and since a 2013 benefit concert have bandied about the idea of some sort of collaborative project. With 3×4 they’ve landed on a quite clever one, each of the four groups covering a track apiece from the other three. Thanks to their common thread of melodic psychedelia, the result is pleasantly cohesive.
The most interesting takes tend to involve The Dream Syndicate as either originator or performer – perhaps because the quartet was easily the heaviest of the four, providing a wider berth for reinterpretation. The Three O’Clock breathe new life into “Tell Me When It’s Over,” Michael Quercio’s dandy-as-ever voice exploring avenues Wynn’s limited range could never pursue. Rain Parade give “When You Smile” the “Tomorrow Never Knows” treatment, working sporadic guitar hero excursions into its six-plus minutes. On the other side of the coin, The Dream Syndicate updates The Bangles’ “Hero Takes a Fall” with a hint of cowpunk backbeat.
It’s The Bangles who deliver the happiest surprise, however, presenting as the egalitarian unit of their early days as opposed to the MTV-era star vehicle. The uninitiated may be startled to hear Vicki Peterson handling lead vocals on their opening contribution, “That’s What You Always Say.” Original bassist Annette Zilinskas – dating to their days as the Bangs – returned to the fold for these recordings, and none of their three covered compositions is more recent than debut album All Over the Place. For that matter, the only title more recent than a first LP is Rain Parade’s 1984 “You Are My Friend.”
3×4 is essentially a nostalgia trip, but a rather good one, with enough new twists to intrigue old fans and enough spirit and consistency to perhaps sway a few new ones.