This album was recorded by the same engineer, same time, same studio (Abbey Road) as PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, and at the same time as SGT. PEPPER. I kind of think it tops both in certain ways, or at least ties with them. Enjoy the shitty review that apparently took two people to write! -Ian!
Who could ever have thought, going back to the Pretty Things’ first recording session in 1965 — which started out so disastrously that their original producer quit in frustration — that it would come to this? The Pretty Things’ early history in the studio featured the band with its amps seemingly turned up to 11, but for much of S.F. Sorrow the band is turned down to seven or four, or even two, or not amplified at all (except for Wally Allen’s bass — natch), and they’re doing all kinds of folkish things here that are still bluesy enough so you never forget who they are, amid weird little digressions on percussion and chorus; harmony vocals that are spooky, trippy, strange, and delightful; sitars included in the array of stringed instruments; and an organ trying hard to sound like a Mellotron. Sometimes one gets an echo of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn or A Saucerful of Secrets, and it all straddles the worlds of British blues and British psychedelia better than almost any record you can name.
The album, for those unfamiliar, tells the story of “S.F. Sorrow,” a sort of British Everyman — think of a working-class, luckless equivalent to the Kinks’ Arthur, from cradle to grave. The tale and the songs are a bit downbeat and no amount of scrutiny can disguise the fact that the rock opera S.F. Sorrow is ultimately a bit of a confusing effort — these boys were musicians, not authors or dramatists. Although it may have helped inspire Tommy, it is, simply, not nearly as good. That said, it was first and has quite a few nifty ideas and production touches. And it does show a pathway between blues and psychedelia that the Rolling Stones, somewhere between Satanic Majesties, “We Love You,” “Child of the Moon,” and Beggars Banquet, missed entirely. [This CD reissue on Snapper adds four valuable songs from their 1967-1968 singles (“Defecting Grey,” “Mr. Evasion,” “Talkin’ About the Good Times,” and “Walking Through My Dreams”). This version of “Defecting Grey” is the original, long, uncut five-minute rendition, and not of trivial importance; it’s superior to the shorter one used on the official single.]
-Bruce Eder & Richie Unterberger, allmusic.com
S.F. SORROW (1968)