Nick Nicely ‘Psychotropia’ (Tenth Planet, 2003)

Born on a transatlantic flight layover in 1959, from the moment he took his first breath there was always going to be something a little different about Nick Nicely.

Labelled “the pop star that never was” by FACT magazine, Nicely proffered an inimitable brand of electro-psychedelia that fused classical music, eclectic psych-folk and the dark, angular electronics of acts like Tubeway Army and pre-’Dare’ Human League, while his mind-bending 1982 single, ‘Hilly Fields’, influenced artists ranging from Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt to XTC’s Andy Partridge.

But it wasn’t all freaky fun and games for Nicely, oh no. Despite the critical acclaim for ‘Hilly Fields’, the single made little headway (none at all, in fact) in the charts, and after he blocked the release of follow-up single ‘On The Coast’, Nicely was dropped by his then-label, EMI. With little equipment at his disposal and even less financial backing, he packed away his copies of ‘Replicas’ and ‘Reproduction’ and retreated from the music industry almost entirely for a number of years.

This would be a rather boring story if it ended there though. Having enjoyed commercial success as a house producer throughout the 1990s, by 2003 Nicely was putting out music under his own name again, allowing psychedelic reissue boffin David Wells to put out an album that compiled his earlier solo material along with various unreleased tracks.

Titled ‘Psychotropia’, it’s one of the few albums for which the word “phantasmagorical” might actually be appropriate – from the trippy garishness of the artwork to the kaleidoscopic majesty of tracks like ‘49 Cigars’ (the Tubeway Army/’Magical Mystery Tour’-era Beatles collaboration that never happened).

‘Heaven’s Gate’, which appears on the expanded CD reissues of 2004 and 2010, is a lush, melody-rich ballad that feels like rolling down a grassy knoll on a summer’s day. Together with the sublime ‘Hilly Fields’, the whole album is like opening a tightly locked box and revelling in the rush of colours and textures that tumble out before your eyes.

In 1982, NME declared ‘Hilly Fields’ to be “the best psychedelic record made since the 60s”. If you find yourself inclined to agree, then it’s recommended that you check out ‘Psychotropia’ – which is probably one of the best psychedelic records ever made.

Full stop.

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