Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s third album, called The World In A Sea Shell, was released in November 1968 on Uni. The record followed Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow (also 1968), but has a much more uniform sound, lusher and swamped with orchestration, than that album. Almost completely gone are the chilly gloom of “Curse Of The Witches”, the sound collage of “Nightmare Of Percussion”, and the commanding magnificence of “Pretty Song From Psych-Out”.
The general feeling here is that the band is exploring its more effete instincts; the end result from a modern perspective is that the good stuff is half-submerged in a dispiritingly glossy sheen, like a sand dollar hidden in soft white sand. There are rewards for the patient digger, though — mostly on the songs that the band members themselves composed.
Sea Shell Strawberry Alarm Clock personnel
The band membership of this time was fairly stable — this was just before the era of the infamous lineup shakeups that would haunt (and occasionally enliven) SAC for the next three years. Rhythm guitarist Lee Freeman, drummer Randy Seol, lead guitarist Ed King, keyboard player Mark Weitz, and bassist George Bunnell all remained from Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow.
About half of the album’s songs were written by non-band members, including Carole King. Roughly speaking, these compositions — done basically against the band’s wishes — make up side 1 of the LP, with the band’s own (and more interesting) songs comprising side 2. The World In A Sea Shell makes this new approach instantly understood with its first several tracks: “Sea Shell” is a wistful lament on a relationship that has ended, and its subdued, harmless feel extends to the next few tracks like Carole King’s “Blues For A Young Girl Gone” and the ironically-titled “An Angry Young Man” (actually one of the prettier and gentler songs on the album).
Not all of the outside-written songs are throwaways, exactly; “Home Sweet Home” is quite good for example, and all of the aforementioned have something to recommend them. Carole King’s other contribution, “Lady Of The Lake” doesn’t really work, on the other hand, and at any rate fans of the glowing psychedelia of Incense And Peppermints and/or the outrÃ© Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow are likely to be shocked and confused by the overwrought confections that await them here.
But it’s the band’s own songs that get the best treatment and make side 2 the more interesting and varied. Not free of the first side’s dense, echoey arrangements exactly, but the songs carry on in the tradition of Wake Up… It’s Tomorrow‘s freewheeling compositional structures and innovative arrangements — not to mention the frequently audacious lyrics. For example, “Barefoot In Baltimore” follows a very strange character called Barefoot, who wanders the town intensely fascinated by the sidewalk under his feet; “Eulogy” is a strange Oedipal confession to and fond reminiscence of a man’s parents; and the protagonist of “Wooden Woman” commits suicide by jumping into the ocean. (That last tale seems a wry extension of the imagery of the album’s title and non-band-composed leadoff track; one wishes to believe it was a creative protest against the band’s management.)
“Barefoot In Baltimore” b/w “An Angry Young Man” — reached #67 in the US
“Sea Shell” b/w “Paxton’s Back Street Carnival” — did not chart
(“Paxton’s Back Street Carnival” was first released on Incense And Peppermints)
However you slice it, the management’s ideas for a greater commercial sound (woefully misguided in retrospect, and probably at the time as well) didn’t pan out. For their fourth and final album, Good Morning Starshine, Strawberry Alarm Clock exerted more control over the material, resulting in a much more satisfying collection of songs (but not enough to bring the Clock back to sustainable mainstream consciousness). The World In A Sea Shell has some good stuff on it, but remains rather a controversial anomaly in SAC’s catalog.