NRP: The Orchids – Unholy Soul

Heading into another exploration of an album unfairly shuttled to the OOP shelf these days. This column seems particularly piercing in the looming shadow of yet another Record Store Day, with no doubt deserving gems from Disturbed and Jeff Beck’s – Truth (a record you can find easily for $5-7 in most used shops) preparing for their assent back to the shelves. Not that it’s all bad. On any other day I’d pop in for a copy of Burt Jansch’s L.A. Turnaround and oddball ‘90s poppers Chainsaw Kittens if I didn’t have them already. So here goes my continual wishlist to the gods of proper reissue, nominating the sophomore LP from Glaswegian janglers The Orchids.

Now the case could very well be made for reissuing pretty much any part of the Sarah Records roster, and I’m all for it, but The Orchids seem to have languished particularly, not only in their own time but in the great hindsight as well. The band was notoriously press shy and often overshadowed by much larger personalities pursuing similar paths. That said their second and third albums, if you count Lyceum as a proper debut, both traverse territory that bridges the pleasant, plaintive jangle-pop of the late ‘80s with a coming Britpop wave looming in the distance. Some would make the case that Unholy Soul is merely the staging ground for what was to come on 1994’s Striving For The Lazy Perfection, but I’d maintain that the earlier release maintains the edge as the stronger album over time.

The record boasts some of James Hackett’s best songwriting, blending winsome, thoughtful vocals with sparkling jangles, occasional breaks into trip-hop that don’t overplay their hand and enough bittersweet soul to bring this one home as a truly overlooked classic. Personally, I’ve always balked a little bit at the songs that feature Pauline Hynde’s soaring background vox, but it proves they were moving through similar territory as their more famous counterparts in Primal Scream and making it work just as well. The band infuses the record with a kind of understated, shaggy humor that belies their shy demeanor. There are more than a few moments on the record that seem to be in-jokes just for the band’s own benefit. Somehow though they make the listener feel like they’ve always been in on the gag as well.

Though originals can be found for this one, it’s at a premium and often relegated to the UK. Scarcity isn’t the only reason though, it’s the kind of record begging to be rediscovered by an audience that’s mashing up genres, eras and styles. While I’m sure the majority of the mid-aughts Cap Tracks roster had the LTM CD issues on lock, there’s certainly a generation or more that won’t have any access to this on vinyl. The band and Sarah Records were inherently intertwined, The Orchids were there carving out singles when the label started and as Sarah bowed into the sunset, so too did The Orchids. Though they’ve found a second wind in the past few years, so that only adds more fuel to the fire that stokes need for this one to grace shelves once again. I’d deem this one worthier than most of a new life on wax.

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