3×4 celebrates the Paisley Underground.
Yep Roc Records’ multi-artist album 3×4, first released in a limited Record Store Day issue in late 2018, celebrates the Paisley Underground, a loosely associated set of bands in ‘80s Los Angeles that fused ‘60s jangle with guitar rock in a post-punk context. With varying degrees of commercial success, these groups introduced psychedelic elements into a pop format some three decades ago, and here they revisit the era with endearing material that’s both new and old.
As the assembled groups demonstrate, this can mean many things, ranging from pop rock (The Bangles) to guitar histrionics (The Dream Syndicate) to psych-pop (Rain Parade) to power pop (The Three O’Clock). On 3×4, whose main conceit fittingly originated with Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate, each band covers three songs, one from each of the others. Thus the groups pay homage to the musical era they helped create, and which can still be heard in the indie and alternative world of today. The track listing rotates through the bands providing welcome variability, but for the sake of overview, it is easiest to go through the album band by band.
The Bangles provide spirited covers of The Three O’Clock’s “Jet Fighter,” “Talking In My Sleep” by Rain Parade, and “That’s What You Always Say” by The Dream Syndicate. Of these the Beatlesque “Talking In My Sleep” is especially delightful, guided by Susanna Hoffs’s gauzy vocals and Vicki Peterson’s well-timed licks. And their Dream Syndicate cover shows that, as commercially successful as The Bangles were, they were far from bubblegum.
Though Steve Wynn’s vocals have never been especially strong (even for someone who adores TDS), he and his group bring their signature chug to The Bangles’s “Hero Takes a Fall,” “She Turns to Flowers” by Salvation Army (an earlier, more punk iteration of The Three O’Clock) and Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend,” from their outstanding 1983 album Emergency Third Rail Power Trip. This last is one of the album’s stand-outs, reminding the listener of one of the best songs of the era.
For their part, The Three O’Clock repay the favor by playing The Bangles’s first single “Getting Out of Hand” with a lively stomp, The Dream Syndicate’s “Tell Me When It’s Over” and finally Rain Parade’s “What’s She Done with Your Mind,” featuring superb pop harmonies.
Rain Parade plays a wonderful version of The Three O’Clock’s “As Real As Real,” The Bangles’s “Real World” and The Dream Syndicate’s “When You Smile,” one of their most distinctive numbers. Though they are all fairly faithful versions, the sheer prettiness of the vocals makes Rain Parade’s versions stand apart.
Indeed, though it seems like there was not an effort to completely reinvent each other’s songs, there doesn’t need to be—each band brings more than enough of their own unique strengths and musical personality to their tracks that these new versions can stand tall beside the originals. Depending on the song, the strength of the album is either that it reminds you of a classic you might have forgotten, or that it invites you to fantasize about an alternate-universe Paisley Underground, in which these bands have different catalogs and perhaps even different musical fates. But most immediately, it marvelously evokes a long-gone musical era, one with more romance, urgency and fantasy than the one we currently inhabit—a world worth losing oneself in, however fleetingly.