Mabel Joy – Wish I Was (reissue)

Mabel Joy - Wish I Was (reissue)

Mabel Joy – Wish I Was (reissue)

With hindsight it was perhaps inevitable that this one-off long-player from Mabel Joy got thoroughly lost at the time of its original 1993 release.  Amidst the amplified musical sects of the early-‘90s, a collection of acoustically-driven pop symphonies from a British band in thrall to stately late-‘60s/early-‘70s American singer-songwriters and sharing a belated kinship with ‘80s Antipodean folk-rock leaders, was clearly out of sync with any contemporary NME/Melody Maker-framed scene.  Now in the more open-eared 2013, Wish I Was has a shot at life beyond cult record collectors, with this newly-reissued edition.

Having evolved from The Palace Of Light (a more psychedelically-shaped outfit which released one album in 1987), the core Mabel Joy line-up of Geoff Smith (vocals/guitars), Mark Brend (guitars), Tom Anthony (drums) and Matt Gale (bass, piano, organ and almost everything else) recorded this 12-track debut – and swansong – in 1992 with the expansive but well-measured augmentation of violin, cello and female backing vocals.  Through its ornate yet airy arrangements Wish I Was wears its influences with pride but not pastiche.

With Smith’s plummy croon pushed to the fore throughout and the rest of the group wrapped warmly around him, the highlights spring forth quite easily.  Musically, Tim Buckley’s first three albums are certainly key reference points both indirectly (on the likes of “Words On The Floor” and “Do You Know How To Wonder”) and directly (with a highly-spirited cover of the divine “Buzzin’ Fly”).  Elsewhere, there are sophisticated nods to Scott Walker (“Ship Sets Its Sail” and “Always Late”), post-Byrds Gene Clark (“Best Friend”), early-David Ackles (“Scatterbrain Face”), Treeless Plain-era Triffids (“You Don’t Know”) and The Go-Betweens (“First Train”).  Yet for all the meticulous meshing of inspirations the short-lived Mabel Joy sound is crystallised into its own transcendental form with the soaring string-soaked “Sylvan Road,” which is undoubtedly the most outstanding moment on the album.

Perhaps the only real disappointment surrounding Wish I Was is the fact that Mabel Joy didn’t survive long enough to more fully realise the apparent collective potential with a sequel set.  Yet the band’s spirit has indubitably lived on and opened doors, allowing its members to explore other more esoteric ventures together and apart (as Fariña, Ghostwriter and more) as well as making it easier for the likes of The Divine Comedy and The Bitter Springs to properly find their way later into the 1990s and for more recent acts like The Leisure Society to establish a footing.  In short though, this unearthed buried pleasure can be enjoyed both in glorious isolation or used as an insightful cross-referencing tool.

Hanky Panky Records