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The Byrds - Byrdmaniax album review

Turbulent penultimate flight revisited

Soon after the runaway success of their 1970 (Untitled) album and the single Chestnut Mare, the classic late Byrds line-up of Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin and Gene Parsons found themselves faced with making another album. McGuinn revisited his aborted Broadway musical Gene Tryp, Battin co-wrote three songs with seedy LA mucker Kim Fowley, and Parsons and White contributed lightning bluegrass romp Green Apple Quick Step. With gospel enjoying a revival, the band covered Arthur Reid Reynolds’ Glory, Glory, Helen Carter’s My Destiny and Jackson Browne’s Jamaica Say You Will. Job seemingly done, The Byrds went back on tour.

On returning, they were mortified to find that producer Terry Melcher had doused their tracks in orchestration and gospel choirs, mixed into a softfocus mush. Presciently donning death masks for the cover, the band publicly disowned Byrdmaniax and responded with the under-produced Farther Along – apart from ill-fated reunions, The Byrds’ final flight.

After years as a catalogue folly, Byrdmaniax returns. And it isn’t as bad as usually painted, now sounding like an overblown LA curio harbouring decent songs, notably McGuinn’s lovely Pale Blue, and those Battin-Fowley collaborations are delightfully weird. Maybe it’s time for a reappraisal of the album, certainly by Byrds fans who had previously steered clear.