Gone is the strident excitement of their first album. Its absence is to be lamented, but the richer harmonics of the present album are more substantial, and the cuts are more of a joy to listen to repeatedly. Gone are the sometime histrionic "California Dreamin'" and "String Man." Gone, too, are the yeah's and no's. In their place is a more controlled performance: they no longer have to reach for effects; they have them at hand.
The demands of the recording industry have always been at odds with the creative instinct of all but the most commercial groups and individual writers. Original voices are always echoed commercially without a concommitant development of the possibilities of their ideas. And amid the clamor of imitators the original voice is forced to explore new ideas without sounding the depths of the others. This is why second albums are usually disappointments: they are too often tangential. The second Mamas and Papas album was disappointing for this reason. John Phillips has always seemed to have a great deal more to say than he has said, and his ideas have never gotten their full development. They do in this album. The songs are a further development, in style and feeling, of the earlier songs, though they have little in common with the earlier material except craftsmanship.
"Twelve Thirty," the last recording of the self-proclaimed "Golden Era," is included here, its more classical lines almost lost amid the vocal opulence that abounds. It's probably the best realized song the group has recorded, though John's "Safe in My Garden" has strong claim to that distinction. "Garden" is a beautiful thing, the clarity of the lyric and the Beardsleyian imagery of the refrain forming a tension with the effortlessly complex vocal textures. "Mansions" and "Too Late" are much the same thing, but the marvelously intricate vocal treatment of the latter rises above the easily forgotten lyrics.
This is also the problem with "Rooms" and Lou Adler and John's "Meditation Mama": the lyrics are not memorable. John and Denny's "For the Love of Ivy" is the title tune from the Sidney Poitier movie, and in that genre is competent and not much more. "Gemini Childe" is seriously marred by its lack of strong direction and its muddled conception. It is easily the album's weakest cut. "Midnight Voyage" is a delight. At its end is a brief reprise Cass gives a reading.
"Dream a Little Dream with Me" is Cass's obligatory solo. It's beautiful. But then what more can you say about someone you love?
(Posted: Jul 6, 1968)
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