Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Byrds 3: Fifth Dimension

On only their third album, the Byrds were down to a quartet. Gene Clark, whose superior songwriting was resented by the others, left the band under the excuse that he was afraid to fly and couldn’t tour. As a result, Fifth Dimension suffers from his absence. The hits are there, of course, and the band’s blend of stellar harmonies and improved playing holds them together, but something’s missing, and it’s Gene.
“5D (Fifth Dimension)” shows Jim McGuinn already getting out there in terms of science fiction, and approaching psychedelia. Its dense lyrics are nicely matched to a folk melody, which is echoed in their pretty arrangement of “Wild Mountain Thyme”. Then it’s back to sci-fi with the jaunty “Mr. Spaceman”, which is much easier to sing despite the forcibly Dylanesque imagery. “I See You” demonstrates some of McGuinn and Crosby’s interest in Coltrane free jazz, which would improve elsewhere. “What’s Happening?!?!” is a much better Crosby song, and very indicative of the questioning types of lyrics he’d continue to write. Side one concludes with the striking “I Come And Stand At Every Door”, sung from the point of view of a young Hiroshima victim.
Side two starts strong, but runs immediately out of steam. “Eight Miles High” more than delivers on what they picked up from Coltrane, and it’s still quite a striking song today. Contrast this with Crosby’s version of “Hey Joe”; while they were the last of the LA bands to record it, they were among the first to play it, and unfortunately for them, others did it much better. Then there’s “Captain Soul”, a plodding instrumental jam featuring the return of Gene Clark on harmonica. “John Riley” is another Byrds take on a folk song, but this album’s version of the gag finale is given over to “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)”. While it attempts to be “groundbreaking” in its use of sound effects, here the sound of an airplane taking off comes off more like a vacuum cleaner, and the music isn’t much more inspired than “Captain Soul”.
The whole of Fifth Dimension does equal more than the parts, but it’s clear that the pressure to create product without relying on Dylan or Gene Clark songs was a bit much. The bonuses on the updated CD include the B-side “Why”, plus alternates of that and “Eight Miles High” that are pretty intense. “Psychodrama City” is an okay Crosby song that uses too much improvised 12-string, and it’s just as well they didn’t finish “I Know You Rider” for a single. The token instrumental to close out the CD is a chaotic “jazz” take on “John Riley”, and the bulk of the remainder is a hidden vintage open-ended interview with McGuinn and Crosby discussing the hip influences on the album.

The Byrds Fifth Dimension (1966)—3
1996 CD reissue: same as 1966, plus 6 extra tracks

3 comments:

  1. I have every single Byrds albums on CD and LP. Few albums still hold up. 5 Miles High and Hey Joe (which I think is a cool arrangement). The rest? Crap! What if McGuinn had left at this point? He was the weakest singer, his guitar was OK and his song writing was mediocre. Clark had a better voice and wrote well, Hillman was/is a better songwriter and better singer, Crosby's singing was best - songwriting weakest. I vote out McGuinn.

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  2. at the time i liked this album and it is only looking back that it is clearly lacking good material,there were maybe 5 or 6 good songs and they were distinctive which is what you expected of them then, there wasn;t really anyone else doing things like their best material just not enough of it here

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  3. No doubt there's filler here, but it doesn't really bother me. The good stuff more than compensates.

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