Klaatu, Klaatu (1976)

Klaatu, 'Klaatu' (1976)Klaatu is best-known as the band rumored to have been a secret mid-1970s revival of the Beatles. That notion first began shortly after the release of their first album, a self-titled debut landing on Earth seemingly out of nowhere in the late summer of 1976.

Following a similar trajectory as all of those “Paul is dead” stories once did, various clues were cited as evidence that the record indeed was the work of the Fab Four in disguise. It would take a few months, in fact, for the band’s true identity as a Toronto-based trio to be revealed once and for all, at which point the band apparently suffered some backlash for not being more forthcoming sooner.

Klaatu would ultimately record five LPs before disbanding in the early 1980s, though never came close to matching the inventiveness and fun of that sometimes-spellbinding debut. The LP features a nifty symmetry, with eight songs, four per side, all pop-song length other than the two double-length tunes that begin and end the record in bookend-like fashion, both of which evoke sci-fi themes reminding us the band’s name was derived from the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tiptoeing in quietly amid the sounds of bugs buzzing and a scratchy record effect, the seven-plus minute “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” slowly builds into a catchy, melodic anthem of peace between planets. At times -- especially during the early, quiet passages -- the song is almost unbearably precocious, both lyrically with its summer-of-love-sounding sentiment delivered nearly a decade late and musically with that syrupy-sweet mellotron pushing things along. (In other words, it isn’t that strange to learn that the Carpenters once covered the tune.) But in the end the song stands as an utterly unique and accomplished introduction to the band.

“California Jam” follows, an upbeat, bouncing number that includes an a cappella-sung break that evokes the Beach Boys and a c’mon-let’s-go shout of “California!” near the end that could not sound more like Paul McCartney. (Seriously -- it’s uncanny.) The weird, potentially off-putting “Anus of Uranus” follows, a grittier-sounding tune that sounds like it might have been more fun to play than it necessarily is to listen to, although it doesn’t disturb the album’s flow that much.

Side One ends with the very Beatlesque “Sub-Rosa Subway” which tells the story of Alfred Beach who masterminded the first New York subway in the late-19th century. The tune pleasantly marches through the horn-and-percussion-laden soundscapes of “Hello Goodbye,” “It’s All Too Much,” as well as the “Strawberry Fields” and “I Am the Walrus” fadeouts.

Side Two opens with “True Life Hero,” a pedestrian pop song with a not-too-interesting message that features a kind of literal-minded approach to its subject that one finds on the band’s later albums, making them (for me) a little less enjoyable. Next comes “Doctor Marvello,” a spooky little tune that inches along with sitars, backward loops, and other freakiness. (Don’t ask me what’s about, though -- I’ve no idea.)

Then comes the inspired “Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III,” an odd, novelty-type song that might recall the Beatles’ detours to allow Ringo a turn at the mic. Sung with a growly, faux-Brit accent and backed by joyous-sounding choruses of men and women, the song shares the legend of a wayward explorer, the “only man who’s ever been to hell and come back alive.”

Finally comes “Little Neutrino,” the title of which always makes me think of Stanislaw Lem’s great sci-fi novel, His Master’s Voice (1968). It’s a moody -- even dramatic -- eight-and-a-half minute psychedelicized opus that employs heavily-effected voices, keyboards, and other instruments to build a dense aural bed that successfully evokes the idea of floating through space. A tiny mouse squeak punctuates the final fade, a sound that opens the band’s next record, Hope, as a kind of goofy segue.

As stated, following that segue to the band’s subsequent output will prove disappointing to most, I imagine, although there are a few pop gems scattered among the later titles, too. Still, I’d recommend flipping the disc over and listening to “Calling Occupants” again.

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