Originally released as a 13-track LP in 1981, this compilation documents the fruits of New Psychedelia, which set the scene for glammy Britpop, nerdy twee pop, playful college rock, and more.
"We’re a reaction against the violence of London. Here you can be what you want to be. We’re carrying on where the '60s left off. We put jelly on the floor and ask people to eat it. The fact that they do shows that there is still hope for the world." These are the words of the Doctor, a glammed-up, pylon-haired oddball, speaking to the UK’s Observer magazine in 1981. The Doctor’s heady proclamations, made in the wake of punk and postpunk and at the dawn of Thatcherism, were typical of an idealistic new movement rooted in the mod revival. It antagonized both dreary realists, who were unforgivably bland, and the reigning New Romantics, whose pop-futurist stylings were considered elitist and played-out, stuck in front of the bedroom mirror. New Psychedelia, fomented in early-80s England, peered instead into the kaleidoscope of psych-rock—13th Floor Elevators, Traffic, the Nuggets compilations—and saw something momentarily more appealing.
A Splash of Colour, originally released as a 13-track LP in '81, documented the scattershot fruits of that vision, just as it began to spread beyond clubs and second-hand clothes stores in London’s Soho and Kensington. Reissued as Another Splash of Colour, the set has now expanded to three discs, comprising 64 songs recorded between '80 and '85. Ancestors of glammy Britpop, nerdy twee pop, playful college rock, and prime-era Creation Records rub shoulders, jostling for attention as each song pulls the rug from under the last.
What connects the groups is their investment in a collective, '60s-themed imaginarium, from Robyn Hitchcock’s inspired nonsense ("It’s a Mystic Trip") to the straight-faced period pieces of groups like Pink Umbrellas ("Raspberry Rainbow"). Though genre revivalism was hardly novel, New Psychedelia—which, besides this compilation, left few footprints in the British underground—was the first scene since punk to observe the widespread rejection of '60s Britrock, and to reject that rejection. Thanks in part to the "second Cold War," as well as the severity of Margaret Thatcher’s conservative politics, many would-be dissidents had drifted into a state of woozy social escapism. That musical response, writes one-time NME scribe Neil Taylor in Another Splash of Colour’s liner notes, "made a curious contrast, as the inimitable Dan Treacy was to later point out on 'She Was Only a Grocer’s Daughter': 'Relax your mind and float downstream/Pretend it’s all a very bad dream.'"
For New Psychedelia’s frontmen (and it’s curious to note that no group represented here had a frontwoman), those bad dreams were a creative goldmine. The compilation’s second track, "Just Like a Dream" by the High Tide, is a grim fantasy of nuclear apocalypse. It’s joined by escapist head-ventures from the Marble Staircase ("Still Dreaming"), Treacy’s TV Personalities ("The Dream Inspires"), and Naz Nomad & the Nightmares, who cover the Electric Prunes’ "I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)." Rather than dream up a new world, the artists were scavenging and inhabiting the recent past—in this case the late '60s, already established as the unimpeachable golden age—because they considered their copious imagination an end in itself, rather than a weapon. Like their siblings in twee pop, the scene’s aggrieved youngsters saw no contradiction in protesting neoliberalist austerity by reviving the '60s idealism that failed to prevent it.
There’s much to enjoy in the free-spirited music that impulse wrought, even if it proved a bit of a dead-end. "Just 'cos the blank generation blew it/Don’t mean we have to," is a typically feisty missive from Miles Over Matter, whose kaleidoscopic "Something’s Happening Here" is the record’s closest thing to a manifesto. The Barracudas, who applied their psych fripperies and lyrical polemic more sparingly, contribute a neat, jangly anthem called "Watching the World Go By," which rallies disenchanted dreamers who believe "The world is just too crazy" and who "prefer being left behind." Cleaners From Venus, led by the great Martin Newell, offer "Wivenhoe Bells II," a more pastoral and poetic social commentary that could slide onto XTC’s Skylarking, with a reverb-heavy, alienated vocal that clambers over tumbling arrangements, like a child across beach rocks.
While wimpy eccentrics characterized the scene, the highlights here are diffuse. The militant urgency of Blue Orchids’ "Work," a hit on John Peel’s radio show, isn’t far off that of the group’s transatlantic contemporaries Mission of Burma and the Wipers. The Soft Boys' "Only the Stones Remain" and Julian Cope’s brilliantly haughty "Sunspots" are neo-psych heavyweights that have swaggered through the decades, while Glasgow band the Chicanes, on "Further Thoughts," identify and triangulate the best bits of all of it, corralling dingy postpunk, breezy Postcard pop, psych mystique, and post-hardcore dissonance into something surprisingly forward-facing.
In fact, listening through the comp, there’s a sense New Psychedelia’s weak link was maybe the psychedelia: When Another Splash of Colour drags, it’s thanks to emboldened hammer-ons, zealous chorus pedals, or stray jam passages—many of the fineries that another psych descendant, the shoegaze scene, ditched a few years later. Still, the cluttered, trove-like format suits the record. As is customary for sprawling retrospectives, listeners enter an unspoken pact in which they’ll persevere with, say, Firmament & the Elements’ "The Festival of Frothy Muggament" (sample lyric: "We played and they paid/And was it good?/Mmm, yay, verily, it was good") because forays into absurd theatricality are part and parcel of any scene sustained by LSD-fuelled boat parties and a fondness for shirts with Edwardian frills. Not only does the record’s scrappy, lived-in ambiance reflect the DIY necessities of that scene—it creates an intimate, densely packed time-capsule, in which strange aromas have mingled until even the minor curios are a source of wonder.