Mark Wirtz

The Fantastic Story of Mark Wirtz and the Teenage Opera

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The title might be taken by some to imply that this double CD is producer Wirtz's never-issued-in-completed-form Teenage Opera (excerpted on Keith West's hit single "Excerpt from 'A Teenage Opera'"). Actually, it's really a collection of Wirtz's more ambitious and enduring productions from 1964 to 1972 (with one Wirtz recording from 1996), sometimes featuring Wirtz himself as the artist, though some of the songs would have been used had the opera taken final shape. It's a wildly inconsistent collection that doesn't quite make the case for Wirtz as a genius on the order of Phil Spector, or even Joe Meek. Still, there's interesting British pop and rock here, traversing quite a gamut of styles, from British psychedelia (with Tomorrow) and relatively straight pop to Gene Pitney-esque balladeers, go-go background music (sometimes played by a young Steve Howe), and American-style arrangements for female vocalists and pseudo-Spector-ian sides. Unlike, say, Meek or Spector, Wirtz didn't have immediately identifiable signature sounds, other than being prone to lush, sometimes orchestral density that sometimes bore similarities to Californian sunshine pop. Some of these songs are superficial trifles or unmemorable pop tunes, yet others are good matches of offbeat, melodic pop/rock with imaginative production. Elmer Hockett's contemporary calypso of "Love Is Happening to Me," the very early David Bowie-ism of Mike Sedgewick's "The Good Guys in the White Hats," the Abbey Road-on-sugar textures of Philwit & Pegasus, even the early-'70s ambitious Muzak of Wirtz's early-'70s tracks: All have something to recommend them. Keith West's two singles from the Teenage Opera concept, "Excerpt from 'A Teenage Opera'" and "Sam," are both here too, though they've been reissued elsewhere.

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