Now and Them

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The average '60s rock fan should be aware of this vital fact about Now & Them right away: This is not the version of the band that is most familiar, with Van Morrison on lead vocals. In fact, Morrison does not appear at all on this album, the first of the obscure LPs recorded by a reorganized Them after Morrison's departure for a solo career. For that simple reason, it cannot be compared to Them's previous recordings, either in quality or in style. Getting beyond that, it's not a bad record, though not a particularly good one, and pretty lacking in consistent direction. Perhaps because this was recorded in Hollywood (where Them was based at the time), it has a surprisingly American sound in many places. Yet their new sound, whatever it was, didn't coalesce, and the record seemed almost the work of several bands rather than one. There was fairly hard-nosed British R&B in the cover of John Mayall's "I'm Your Witch Doctor," American-styled blue-eyed soul on the cover of Timi Yuro's "What's the Matter Baby," bubblegummy psych-pop on "Truth Machine," echoes of the Monkees and the Association on "You're Just What I Was Looking for Today," a muted "Gloria" rewrite on "Dirty Old Man (At the Age of Sixteen)" (whose Strawberry Alarm Clock-like harmonies dilute the original arrangement, cut by the group slightly earlier on a non-LP single), disposable jazz-blues on "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out," Standells-styled garage rock on "Walking in the Queen's Garden," and an inferior cover of "I Happen to Love You" (done better by both the Myddle Class and the Electric Prunes). The big problem, however, was that the group simply did not have a lead singer miles within Van Morrison, nor did they write original material miles within what Morrison penned for the earlier Them records. For all that, it does contain one nice, lengthy, haunting raga rock piece, "Square Room," undoubtedly the most original work on the record, and the album's highlight. The 2003 CD reissue adds mono single mixes of "Walking in the Queen's Garden" and "I Happen to Love You" as bonus tracks.

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