Assuming it was brutally difficult to be an aspiring band in England in the late sixties, I’d bet the Bees (or as they’re known stateside, A Band of Bees) invented a time machine to escape the British Invasion and bring their sound to a new generation of ears. With a style that is more vintage than sixties retro, the Bees sophomore album, Free the Bees, plays as if it were released a few months after the Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society. And it’s just as solid.
If you eagerly search for new music, you’ve already heard this album: it was released in England almost a year ago and has only recently found its way across the sea, following the band’s 2002 debut, Sunshine Hit Me. That album was a stellar collection of sixties-era pop as diverse and eclectic as a cross between Os Mutantes and the Creation. The fourteen songs collected on Free the Bees are just as amazing. This time, though, they sound less inspired by the band’s influences and more like their influences’ accomplices (the Kinks, the Beatles, the Small Faces).
Free the Bees‘ distinct sound comes to life with a collection of guitar, keyboard and brass sections that frolic about in a reverb-rich world of analog sounds. The brainchild of Aaron Fletcher and Paul Butler, the Bees claims to be a six-piece with equal songwriting influence. The band members’ socialist take on music plays to their advantage on the instrumental sixties spy-type theme, “The Russian.” Other tracks, including the fifties-style burlesque dance song “Chicken Payback,” add a deeper breath of style. “Wash in the Rain” finds itself in the perfect set-up of soulful Hammond organ lines, vocal-rich choruses and Butler howling, “Try and I fail/ Sometimes I even succeed/ If you look at my life/ I can’t complain.”
Recorded in three weeks at Abbey Road Studios, it’s surprising the Bees found a way to resurrect the ghosts of sixties British rock and not sound like they’re imitating them. Free the Bees shows a group of skilled musicians who are comfortable in their style and songwriting, and it plays like it was unearthed in a warehouse basement, where it was hidden for the last forty years. I hope it’s not long before the Bees get back in the time machine and drop another album on us.