First Impressions: Aquarius Andromeda by the Three O’Clock

This week, I found myself surfing the sonic waves to ever-distant shores where social media is nothing more than communal cork boards that people post requests to for everything from roommates to rides home and, also, offer things for sale, such as furniture and football tickets. Plus, instead of logging online first thing every morning and checking this-or-that “newsfeed,” you picked up the Daily Collegian—or whatever your newspaper of choice was—and flipped through it over breakfast and/or ruminated about the night before with pals, in person. The in-your-face nuttiness and antagonism that makes up much of today’s quasi-public forums were relegated to the “Willard Preacher” and talk-radio.

I’ve landed in my college years, aka the mid-1980s, in other words. When I wasn’t folking it up or embracing my inner-cowpunk, the Three O’Clock, Bangles and their Paisley Underground cohorts provided—in part—the soundtrack to my many halcyon days and nights. Their 1985 LP Arrive Without Travelling was and remains one of my favorite platters—as I wrote in my “essential” review of it, “It’s a true spacetime anomaly, simultaneously of its time and timeless, full of shimmering melodies and hooks galore.” 

In the pre-Internet days, however, ferreting out previous releases from non-mainstream bands wasn’t easy. All I knew was the they had a few. Flipping through the bins of local record stores was pretty much it for research, really, and since you didn’t know what you didn’t have, well, every record-store outing became a crap shoot. That said, City Lights Records in State College, Pa., was better than most. I picked up Sixteen Tambourines there at some point in 1986 and Ever After in, I think, the spring of ’87.

That may all seem beside the point when it comes to Aquarius Andromeda, an odds-and-sods digital-only collection released by the Three O’Clock last week. Yet it’s important context. To be frank, I cannot hear the Three O’Clock and not think of the days that used to be. They’re forever intertwined in my mind.

In any event, the 13 song-strong collection isn’t actually new; it’s a reworking of two similar compilations from years past. The Hidden World Revealed (2013) was a hits-and-rarities set (“hits” being a relative term) accented by alternate versions and demos, while the vinyl version of Aquarius Andromeda (2014) excised the “hits” as well as a few of the rarities in order, I imagine, to fit it onto a vinyl record. If that sounds convoluted, don’t worry: It gets more confusing. The download/streaming version leaves “All in Good Time,” “In Love Too,” “Lucifer Sam” and a cover of the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” behind, but re-adds “Jennifer Only (Home Demo”), which had been on Hidden World but not the vinyl. (The Missing Four will now be part of the remastered/expanded Baroque Hoedown, which is slated for release in April.) The digital version also re-configures the track list.

None of those musical chairs impacts the enjoyment factor, however. Theirs is a sound that ushers the best of ‘60s pop into the modern age, aka the ‘80s. It’s earnest and open-hearted, unlike so much ‘80s pop, with elements of everyone from the Beatles to Dexys Midnight Runners infiltrating the songs. The alternate and early versions should prove interesting to established fans, but won’t, I think, diminish the enjoyment of newcomers. “I Go Wild (Really Early Version)” sports different lyrics and a slightly thinner sound, while “A Day in Erotica (Alternate Version)” wafts of psychedelia in a way the Sixteen Tambourines version does not. The demos, by and large, are more than worthwhile, from the Kinks-like “Sound Surrounds” to the “Her Head’s Revolving” demo, which spins as much as the Arrive Without Travelling version. Really, the only negative is “Jennifer Only (Home Demo)” due to the paltry sound of the recording. But the “Girl With a Guitar” demo more than makes up for it. It’s a shimmering, glimmering confection.

Fans who don’t own Hidden World Revealed should add this to their libraries in one form or another. (For some reason, I thought I owned it—but 2013 was two moves and one massive CD sell-off ago.) Curious fans should definitely give a listen and then dig into the rest of the band’s catalog.

The track list:

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