"Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective" (Tee Pee; 2004)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Pretty much the only reason I know The Brian Jonestown Massacre exists is because I manage to read Spin magazine from time to time. Specifically, one recent issue had a story about a documentary that highlighted the feud between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. This particular article made it pretty clear to me that the leader of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe, was basically a creative genius that was seemingly hell bent on sabotaging his success through a debilitating inability to control his impulses, and a series of misguided actions.

So it goes without saying that I reviewed “Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective” with a bit of apprehension. I didn’t even pretend to hope that this two-disc retrospective would come anything close to hard rock or heavy metal. I know what your saying to yourself, “What? A two-disc retrospective? From a band that I’ve never heard AND doesn’t play heavy metal?” You have to understand that The Brian Jonestown Massacre put out 10 albums in 10 years – there is plenty of material to pick from so that takes care of two-disc part. But what about the hard rock and heavy metal requirement? Well, Tee Pee Records may be a small label catering on the fringes of hard rock, but they’re smart enough to see and hear quality when it comes crawling under their faces.

The songs on this retrospective are not presented in chronological order, but generally speaking the band’s older material appears on the first disc and the band’s more recent material appears on the second disc. This goes a long way to helping the listener hear the band’s sonic arc over the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. To me the songs on the first disc seemed a bit lackluster and probably only could appeal to dedicated listeners of true college-oriented alternative music. The second disc is a lot more punchy in its sonic delivery – it’s this side of the band that could appeal to fans of The Black Crowes (the “Amorica” version of the band rather than “Shake Your Money Maker” version of the band), early era-The Who, as well as the spirit and sound of classic ‘50s rock n’ roll.

I found the songs to be quite a diverse lot, with certain highlights I might consider placing on mixed CDs as an obligatory odd-ball track amidst an hours worth of familiar material. Some of the songs are almost folk-like with simple instrumentation, but other tracks seem to have layers and layers of music in an orchestra-like fashion. So, I began to realize, this is what a genius sounds like – at least an alternative music genius. I’m not doubting that characterization – it just doesn’t float my boat and it is clearly unlikely to excite Rough Edge visitors.

If the Rough Edge website wasn’t geared towards hard rock and heavy metal I’d rate this retrospective a lot higher – at least three guitarsaws out of four. If you are a fan of hard rock but aren’t too put off by the sound of the Rolling Stones, other classic rock bands, or even some of the more guitar-oriented alternative bands then this retrospective of The Brain Jonestown Massacre’s career might be worth the chance. However, I’d suggest you sample a few mp3s before making a purchase of this retrospective.

The packaging is simple yet distinctive and extremely informative without being overwhelming. A short biography that details the impact of the band rather than the history of the band is a model for other retrospectives to follow. The black-and-white photographs are stark and have that rare quality of letting a little light shine on their subjects without being too intrusive. A short comment or two appears with every track that provides insight into each song; I’m always afraid these types of descriptions will take away the mystery behind each song, but that’s not the case here.

“Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective” is neat music for the alternative music fan, but not hard rock and heavy metal fans.

Anton Newcombe was joined by more than 40 musicians in various incarnations of his band. As such it is pointless to mention them all here. However, when listening to the CD you might not actually recognize that there are many different musicians supporting Newcombe over time – I take that as an indicator of how well Newcombe has been able to execute his vision regarding his music.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11 Jun 2018 20:14:10 -0400.