Your Snow Day Soundtrack: Phil Parfitt’s “Mental Home Recordings”

Phil Parfitt was the leader of the great British band The Perfect Disaster, whose late’80s/early ’90s run produced two of the best post-Velvet Underground albums of the era, Up, and especially, Heaven Scent. While the Perfect Disaster are perhaps remembered more as the band that introduced us to Josephine Wiggs, who went on to play bass for The Breeders, we still listen to them regularly, beguiled as ever we were by their chugging beat, by Parfitt’s vulnerability as a more sensitive singer/songwriter in the spirit of Lou Reed.

In the mid-’90s, Parfitt returned with a solo album under the band name of Oedipussy, and in these very pages, we asked, “Is Oedipussy’s Divan the great lost album of the ’90s?”

We wrote that in early 2009, and nearly 12 years on, we can answer authoritatively, Yes, yes it was. But while Oedipussy’s album may have been lost, happily Parfitt wasn’t, releasing, in 2014, a quietly gorgeous record entitled I’m Not The Man I Used To Be. Now, saying you’re not the man you used to be can either indicate a belief you’ve been diminished or that your character has improved. From a rock’n’roll standpoint, Parfitt’s record was less than his work with The Perfect Disaster or Oedipussy. But in terms of his contribution to the world of music, an argument can be made that his album’s impact was even greater than what came before it.

And now we have, in this year of Covid when so much work has been done quietly at home, away from the hurly burly, Mental Home Recordings. These recordings are, in a word, gorgeous. An entry into the pantheon of quiet, acoustic-based but thrilling music from the U.K. — think Van Morrison’s Veedon Fleece, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, the less jangly, dare we say sincere side of Robyn Hitchcock.

These songs may have been recorded at home, but the strings that have been added to the sound of Parfitt and his acoustic guitar attest to a studio. “I Saw There Beside Me” really could have been recorded in Tupelo by Van the Man. There are hints throughout of Big Star’s Sister Lovers, and I don’t mean that in terms of his cracking up, even though the album’s title might allude to tough times. I mean that in terms of the spare, but beautiful arrangements, the little off-kilter touches, such as on “John Clare.” It’s about the British Romantic poet who finished up his years in an asylum, living in his mind — and it’s absolutely stunning and affecting, its afterglow lasting. Only “All Fucked Up” asserts itself as a more up-tempo pop song, for this is an album of quiet gems, gleaming on a velvet pillow. “Bones Cold” may be the prettiest song I listened to this year not performed by Fenne Lily. “My Love” is certainly the least sappy clutcher of heartstrings we’ve ever heard.

Phil Parfitt is not the man he used to be, if by that we mean he’s produced a second solo album to put on while sitting by a crackling fire, and not — as was the case with both his prior bands — an album to dance and dream to, propelled along like the Velvets were by Maureen Tucker’s drumming.

For those today on the East Coast of the U.S., watching the snow fall and preparing to stay indoors, here’s how to entertain yourself: listen to the gorgeous songs from these Mental Home Recordings. Listen to a mature and thoughtful songwriter work in the full prime of his talents.

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