Received wisdom still states that Seattle's major contribution to the Rock scene's sonic evolution is the Grunge Explosion, but the archives of Tom Dyer's fantastic Green Monkey Records tell a rather different story.
The re-animated label's recent 'It Came From The Basement' 2CD compilation demonstrated what a richly diverse tapestry of talent was being interwoven during the late '70s and early 80s in Seattle. Yet of all the acts who would pass through Tom Dyer's subterranean recording HQ, perhaps the most enduring of all were THE GREEN PAJAMAS. A magically off the wall psych-pop outfit based around the song-writing talents of one Jeff Kelly, they,as the cliche goes, really shoulda been contenders on a much grander scale.
Although 'Book of Hours' was the Pajamas 'official' debut LP (as in released on vinyl), they were already well-respected in the Pacific North West thanks to several landmark releases. For starters, there was their cassette-only release, 'A Summer of Lust' (1984) and then the classic 1985 single 'Kim The Waitress' which had got tongues wagging in the international underground press.
Though now expanded to include tracks from the Greek and Australian re-issues of the album (and updated as 'The Complete Book of Hours'), the original LP was released in 1986 and swam very resolutely against the tide of the times. The thing is, it's important to remember that while Nirvana's 'Bleach' was still three years away and even Mudhoney's 'Superfuzz Bigmuff' EP was almost two years into the future, producer Jack Endino was laying down the seeds for what would mutate into Grunge with scuzzy rockers Skin Yard, so the idea of a Seattle band laying down a fragrant, patchouli-tinged psychedelic pop masterpiece in such a climate was brave at best.
Not that Kelly and his talented cohorts Steve Lawrence (bass/ guitar/ vocals), Bruce Haedt (keyboards/ vocals) and drummer Karl Wilhelm gave a damn. With a delicious obstinacy redolent of The Soft Boys making their now-lauded 'Underground Moonlight', they went their own sweet way and proceeded to make a psychedelic pop classic which gleefully chucked everything from cellos and pipes to brass and sitars into the mix and still came up smelling of roses.
However, while 'Book of Hours' may superficially have been drenched in the Eau de 1967, if you're expecting an unfocussed sprawl akin to The Stones' 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' then forget it, because there's also a modern-day energy at work here, not to mention Jeff Kelly's redoubtably brilliant song-writing skills, all of which conspire to ensure the expanded 'Book of Hours' is an inspired listen over two decades on.
Kelly's ability to spin quality, Paisley-clad pop is apparent from the off. 'Paula' is a great strident start, with a darker-than-first-expected lyrical bent ("you will never know and you will never see who I've come to be" )while the frustrated 'Men In Your Life' proudly cranks up its' spangly guitars and backward-masked solos. It's never less than exhilarating, especially Kelly's natural, Beatles-style pop bent gets an infusion of Power Pop as it does on the marvellous 'Bang Bang You're Dead' when a love rival gets his metaphysical come-uppance.
Thrillingly, Kelly's band mates also demonstrate their abilities as songsmiths. Keyboard player Bruce Haedt brings a different dimension with the rhythmically-tricky 'Stand to Reason', although his ear for groovy, side-walking pop as also keenly attuned, as 'Big Surprise' makes abundantly clear. Funnily enough, bassist/ guitarist Steve Lawrence's songs have an even stronger whiff of incense and peppermints, but when the end results are as engaging as 'My Red Balloon' and 'Falling Through The Hole', who's complaining?
Ultimately, though, what really sets 'Book of Hours' apart is Kelly's desire to create wonderfully dense and complex mini-epics, of which there are several here. The first is the meltingly lovely 'First Rains of September' which is steeped in hopeless longing and garnished with harpsichord reminiscent of the Stones' 'Aftermath' period. The enigmatic 'Night Miss Sundby Died' is arguably even better and even makes a totally OTT guitar solo seem acceptable. 'Time of Year' goes even further out on a limb with, er, a bagpipe solo from highland piper Doug Maxwell, yet it's still utterly transcendent, as is 'Under The Observatory' which is surely the album's 'A Day In The Life' or 'Broken Arrow' and lingers long in your memory.
'The Complete Book of Hours', then, is more than worthy of its' comprehensive CD issue. It's a thrilling, psychedelic-tinged tome from start to finish and it should never be left to gather dust again. Not even on the most discerning of shelves.
Green Monkey Records online