Rage Before Beauty

The Pretty Things

Snapper Music, 1999


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Surprise confession: I might not be the most qualified person to write this review, seeing my entire knowledge of Phil May and The Pretty Things now consists of two albums. Originally, I had planned on reviewing Get The Picture, the second release from this seminal British blues outfit, but decided (with a little nudging from the right people - hi, Veronique!) to check out their first release in years (and a reunion of sorts, bringing back the core of the lineup from their S.F. Sorrow album).

In a sense, things worked out better this way. Listening to the group's debut album and hearing their uncanny similarity to the Rolling Stones provided an interesting reference point for Rage Before Beautymy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 . Where the first album featured a band that was rough around the edges and had a sound that matched, this album features an older, wiser band with a sound that has been tightly knit.

The years have been kind to May and crew. May's voice now has a richness that echoes throughout this album, and the musical interplay between the veterans - May, guitarist Dick Taylor (who was once a member of the Rolling Stones), keyboardist John Povey, bassist Wally Walter and drummer Skip Allen - shows that the band has become as tight as the competing band that came from that era in British music. (Guitarist Frank Holland rounds out the crew.)

Tracks like "Passion Of Love," "Blue Turns To Red," "Goodbye Goodbye" and "Fly Away" all show the listener that The Pretty Things are back with a vengeance, and that they are still musically important in this day and age. With the help of friends like Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (on "Love Keeps Hanging On") and Ronnie Spector (on "Mony Mony"), Rage Before Beauty quickly becomes a must-hear album. There's even a bit of humor in the memories, as heard in "Vivian Prince," a tribute to the first drummer for the band.

But it's at the end of the album, with the gospel-tinged "God Give Me The Strength (To Carry On)" that the soul of The Pretty Things is laid bare. May pours his all into the vocals of this song, exposing every raw nerve that he's suffered over the course of 30-odd years. It's a powerful song, and the perfect way to close this album.

I do question, though, the reliance on cover tunes. Sure, with Taylor's past with the Stones, I can understand them choosing a cover song like "Play With Fire". But two other tracks, "Mony Mony" and "Eve Of Destruction," I don't quite understand. May proves often enough that he's more than capable of writing a killer track; why the band would choose to make three of the album's 14 tracks cover songs is a mystery.

While today's listener can still pick up Rage Before Beauty without having heard any of The Pretty Things's discography prior and enjoy this disc, it still helps to have heard at least one disc from the band's early days. It helps to show how much this band has grown - and matured - since the start, and it makes you appreciate Rage Before Beauty that much more.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Snapper Music, and is used for informational purposes only.