It may not be any consolation to Bobb Trimble, but almost 30 years after micro-releasing two albums, Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest of Dreams, interest in his brand of psychedelic, outsider soft-pop is at a high watermark. You can blame fervent crate-diggers and proactive fans of unearthed classics all you want, but most interesting albums get their eventual due, even if they were initially released -- and bought -- in paltry numbers.
There are any number of reasons why Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest of Dreams didn't make a bigger splash at the beginning of the 1980s: Trimble's predilection for working with pre-teen backing musicians left a sour taste in the mouths of Worcester booking agents, not to mention the young members' parents, who twice pulled their kids from the band. Moreover, Trimble's music isn't traditionally accessible; his voice can grate on the ears. He shares the high-pitched, lonely territory of T. Rex's Marc Bolan, Rush's Geddy Lee, and Nick Gilder (the dude who sang "Hot Child in the City" back in the late ’70s). This "too weird" vocal factor may be unsettling for some, but really, enough popular voices have strayed left-of-center to invalidate most complaints. Maybe success for Trimble just wasn't in the stars.
Regardless, the past is the past. After a long period that saw big sums of cash changing hands for Trimble's original vinyl, Secretly Canadian has resurrected the man for a new generation of oddball music lovers. Iron Curtain Innocence starts our hazy trip with the perfect introductory one-two punch of "Glass Menagerie Fantasies" and "Night at the Asylum." The former is a woozy waltz that takes a page out of Gary "Dream Weaver" Wright's cosmic wuss-rock book, but with more ideas and less studio help. Things turn fun on "Night at the Asylum" as Trimble sings, clipped and playful, over a truly bizarre pop song that uses sound manipulation and sampled voices throughout. Elsewhere are healthy dashes of world-ending melancholy, mystically delivered confessions, a couple of late-album ballads, frenzied guitar lines, and manipulated recording techniques. All of this fails to pull Iron Curtain Innocence even near classic-album territory, but it's a record with plenty of curious moments nevertheless.
Harvest of Dreams fares better than its predecessor; after the strangeness of Iron Curtain Innocence, it's a straighter-shooting missive, though both albums are cut from the same kinky cloth. And despite the hike in creativity, Trimble's trademark fatalistic approach to songwriting remains. Highlighted is a mish-mash of styles: traveling county fair ("Premonitions – The Fantasy"), effects-laden triumphs ("Armour of the Shroud"), troubled rants ("Selling Me Short While Stringing Me Long), and backward ("Oh Baby") and awkward ("The World I Left Behind" is 2:11 of silence) pauses. "Armour of the Shroud" in particular is a superb, simple track, incorporating lots of echoed vocals and trebly guitar and keys before a coda that sounds recorded in a sewer. "Take Me Home Vienna" features The Kidds (Trimble's first pre-teen backing band) in a rather lovely ramble with sly guitar and a chorus sung by Bobb and the children to nice effect. It's a shame that Harvest of Dreams is the last proper album Trimble would make, because it sounds like he's nearing some semblance of cohesion while still maintaining that odd edge unique to him alone.
Interestingly enough, The Beatles are referenced by Trimble himself on the sleeve notes for both Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest of Dreams. Aside from a quote by Harrison and a spiritual tribute to the memory of Lennon, he calls out the band directly with "Dear John, Paul, George and Ringo, If I'm a good boy and work real hard, may I please be the 5th Beatle someday? Your friend, Bobb." Musically, he mines some of the fab four's views on psychedelia -- particularly the Magical Mystery Tour era -- but his vision differs greatly from his idols. Dylan too can be heard as an inspiration (listen to the stolen strum and harmonica wheeze in "Premonitions Boy – The Reality"), but where Dylan is more concerned with displaying cleverness through obtuse wordplay and hidden meaning, Trimble seems hell-bent on exercising the demons swimming around his skull.
The closest big-name relative to Trimble's musical odyssey may be post-Syd Pink Floyd (or post-Syd Syd Barrett), but he shares equal affinities with fringe characters like Michael Yonkers and Jandek, if not in sound then in spirit. One minute I think Iron Curtain Innocence's "One Mile from Heaven" textbooks the sound of Luna ten years early, the next I think I'm insane for entertaining such a thought (though I'd be willing to bet that one-time Massachusetter Dean Wareham has some Trimble in his record collection). If the "straight" part of "Oh Baby" was cleaned up a bit, it could be slotted into a Jon Spencer album without too much difficulty (even if it is sung by a Kidd). But I should stop trying so hard; Trimble is too unique a cat to be realistically compared to anyone that came before him, and he doesn't particularly sound like anything that came after these two doomed-to-fail records.
Genius makes its own rules. Madness gets rules foisted upon it. After listening to Iron Curtain Innocence / Harvest of Dreams, it's hard to determine which camp Bobb Trimble resides, if either. Hearing his fantastic tales with inside knowledge of the crushing reality surrounding their release makes for an uneasy experience, but a compelling one all the same. Maybe I am too sensitive to these things. Maybe Trimble was simply a man who knew full well he wasn't made for the ’80s, but he put himself out there anyway. He has now become a precursor to thousands of cracked and tortured singer-songwriters, even if they've never realized it.
Iron Curtain Innocence:
1. Glass Menagerie Fantasies
2. Night at the Asylum
3. When the Raven Calls
4. Your Little Pawn
5. One Mile from Heaven (short version)
6. Killed by the Hands of an Unknown Rock Starr
7. Through My Eyes (Hopeless as Hell: D.O.A.)
8. One Mile from Heaven (long version)
9. Glass Menagerie Fantasies (demo version)
10. Night as the Asylum (demo version)
11. When the Raven Calls (demo version)
Harvest of Dreams:
1. Premonitions – The Fantasy
2. If Words Were All I Had
3. The World I Left Behind
4. Armour of the Shroud
5. Premonitions Boy – The Reality
6. Take Me Home Vienna
7. Selling Me Short While Stringing Me Long
8. Oh Baby
10. Another Lonely Angel
11. Waves of Confusion in Puzzled Times (demo version)
12. Galilean Boy (demo version)
13. Life Is Like a Circle