The Pretty Things – S.F. Sorrow

sfsorrow_coverThat S.F. Sorrow is the first rock opera is common knowledge. It’s one of those fun little factoids in any rock fan’s back pocket, ready to throw out there when someone talks about Tommy. So, as a curio, the album is lodged in history forever. As a listen, though, it might be less remarkable.

The Pretty Things started as a sub-Rolling Stones type of dirty blues band, and seemingly reinvented themselves with each album. Perhaps the best that can be said is, they were filled with ideas – thought without fully-functioning quality filters. But, even without the most prodigious talent, they managed to produce an ambitious collection of songs: S. F. Sorrow, which burgeons with energy and experimentation, if not coherence. The album tells the life story of a sad sack who goes to war, whose girlfriend dies, and then a Haitian loa shows him that life is filled with disappointment and he becomes disconnected from the rest of the world.

This is a pretty dumb story, although it’s the same sort of thing The Kinks, The Who, and Pink Floyd (formerly The Pink Floyd) found compelling enough for their own concept albums. A collection of songs is rarely the best vehicle for telling a story, but what makes concept albums worthwhile is their consistent sense of atmosphere. And, for all The Pretty Things’ deficiencies, particularly their weirdly literal lyrical sense (“Balloon Burning” is about a balloon burning, “Trust” is about not being able to trust people, “Old Man Going” is about an old man going about – this literalism is a trait of almost every Pretty Things song except for the exemplary single “Deflecting Grey,” which the CD of S.F. Sorrow includes as a bonus track)…Sorrow is still listenable. Were these grouped singles, it would be of much less interest. But that’s a ludicrous measure to judge an album by. This isn’t that thing, so the fact that it doesn’t do that thing well is no knock against it.
Rating: B

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email