There have been previous attempts to marshal a lot of British psychedelia into one compilation, but Real Life Permanent Dreams is a little different from those. This four-CD, 99-song box set isn't a best-of, but more like an attempt to assemble a very wide (though still representative) cross section of material, most of it pretty obscure to the average listener. For the most part, it succeeds in delivering a high-quality anthology that manages to offer a lot to both the collector and the less intense psychedelic fan, though it's by no means the cream of British psychedelia. There are only two famous hit records, for one thing, and even those, Arthur Brown's "Fire" and the Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men," are represented by a previously unreleased alternate version and a BBC recording, respectively. Many of the leading acts of the genre are missing, from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Procol Harum through the more psychedelic-oriented tracks by Cream, Traffic, the Yardbirds, and numerous other U.K. acts. Also, the cross-licensing isn't as extensive as it could be, though it's not as heavily reliant on tracks controlled by the Sanctuary Records Group as many other comps on the Castle label are.
There's a lot of interesting stuff here, though, ranging from precious twee fantasy-laden pop-psych and freakbeat to psychedelia on the verge of making a transition to hard rock and progressive rock, even though some of the songs are fairly average and even generic British psychedelia. Some of the cuts -- Winston's Fumbs' "Snow White," the Buzz's "You're Holding Me Down," the Peep Show's "Mazy," the Kult's "No Home Today," Paper Blitz Tissue's "Boy Meets Girl," and Lord Sutch's strange "The Cheat" -- rate as some of the best obscure recordings in the entire genre. Also, a lot of major artists -- including Donovan, the Kinks, the Nice, Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger & the Trinity, the Small Faces, Marc Bolan, the Incredible String Band, Jethro Tull, Soft Machine, and Humble Pie -- are heard on the box set, though in every instance, they're represented by some of their more obscure recordings, often taken from B-sides, BBC sessions, or demos (and, in Jethro Tull's instance, the debut 1968 single on which they were billed as Jethro Toe, "Sunshine Day"). There are also a bunch of selections that feature big names in unfamiliar guises, like the tracks by Noel Redding's band Fat Mattress, the quasi-supergroup Santa Barbara Machine Head (with Ron Wood and Jon Lord), Episode Six (with future members of Deep Purple), the Bystanders (who evolved into Man), and the Beatstalkers (whose "Silver Tree Top School for Boys" was written by David Bowie, who never recorded the tune himself).
Yes, there's a touch of collector elitism at play in some of the choices. A few superior songs -- like the Smoke's "My Friend Jack" (a hit only in Germany) and the End's "Loving Sacred Loving" (co-written by Bill Wyman) -- by acts that aren't exactly international household names are represented by yet more obscure, and arguably inferior (though undeniably rarer), alternate versions. As compensation, though, even collectors who think they have everything are bound to come across items they don't have or were only barely aware of, like Lomax Alliance's effervescent and previously unreleased "The Golden Lion" (including Jackie Lomax), one of the highlights of the whole collection. There's also a superb 48-page booklet featuring wise and witty liner notes by David Wells, perhaps the top expert on all things British psychedelic. It all adds up to a worthwhile addition to the psychedelic aficionado's collection, though it's neither as comprehensive nor as killer as the best such four-CD anthology of obscure British psychedelia could be.