The Return of Percy Thrillington: The Thrill is Back!
album review Kevin Harvey
A lifetime ago- perhaps several lifetimes ago- Paul McCartney released his second solo album, the masterpiece RAM, ridiculed by the caustic Lennon and the crooked Klein. Thinking back, no raves boot up: Peter Asher, busy enclosing Linda Ronstadt’s voice in chilly parenthesis, called the album “cluttered.” My porous memory, struggling now, says the general consensus was more or less the same: too much going on, too varied, and what’s with the shot of the two beetles humping on the back cover? Next.
Well, next proved to be an orchestral reimagining of the entire RAM album by someone named Percy Thrillington, a name that might have come out of the Bonzo Dog Band or Monty Python. The cover illustration showed a tuxedoed violinist seated in front of a stand of sheet music. His head, perhaps masked, perhaps not, was that of a great horned ram. Percy, you old devil! So, Thrillington entered with very little promotional fanfare and quickly vanished. If you read enough, long enough, you begin to notice what is never mentioned. The big band RAM had gone missing and no one cared.
Moving way ahead now, Sir Paul has been releasing his past catalog, cleaned up, fattened with unreleased bonus material, much of which is exceptional. (Why Wild Life and Red Rose Speedway were skipped over, I’ve no idea.) And, here, out of the blue and barely mentioned, the Thrillington album, the only McCartney-related album I’ve never heard! (I say related because, hey….) Once it arrived, I was surprised to discover that I was afraid to play it. What if, after all these decades, it sucked? Would it prove lifeless, canned, as hard to defend as Give My Regards to Broadway, Ebony and Ivory, the Michael Jackson stuff? I decided to sneak up on it, a track at a time. I played Too Many People and liked it. Swell. I put it away for a few days, listening instead to Jack Bruce until my neighbors stopped mowing their lawns.
Sucking it up, I started again with 3 Legs and really liked it. So much so that I allowed the album to play through. At the risk of losing some of you, I loved it. I won’t name every track- I don’t have to- but all sorts of things lurked beneath the surface of the tunes: Minnie the Moocher, the criminally forgotten Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Brazil ’66, Herb Albert, Abbott and Costello! The work felt as if it had been animated: You could SEE the RAM album! Not a single tune felt like a stretch; the orchestral arrangements fit the original songs effortlessly, naturally, organically. It was a perfect album to cook to, to be alone with! (I know; I know.) I suspect that McCartney could have pulled off the same trick with Sgt. Pepper, but that would have never gone unnoticed and a generation of rock snobs would have pissed and moaned, called him an unhip namby-pamby. He had to do it with one of his own albums; and doing it early in his solo career he had the great good fortune to reconstruct a misunderstood masterpiece. Releasing it, now, in 2018, may or may not be an act of artistic bravery. I’m not sure. I do know that Percy has outlived many a rock snob, that meeting him today at long last is a real pleasure. Let’s just leave it that I’m glad the thrill is back.