Opal, originally formed under the name Clay Allison, was the creation of Rain Parade's David Roback--predating his work with Mazzy Star--and the Dream Syndicate's Kendra Smith; this is their only full-length release. Exploring the more sinister side of psychedelia, the claustrophobic eeriness of 'Happy Nightmare Baby' is broken only by Smith's transcendent vocals and mystical delivery. It's an utterly spellbinding record and one that I would unhesitatingly recommend to fans of the Paisley Underground and its associated bands.
If you like this, go to The New Disease and check out their live Opal recordings! If you're interested in the Paisley Underground, you'll also find Rain Parade, the Dream Syndicate, True West, and Green on Red there as well. Go forth and enjoy!
At once drowsy, psychedelic, entrancing, and possessed of a sinuous spark, Happy Nightmare Baby may have been Opal's only album but deserves more attention than merely being a blueprint for Roback's later work in Mazzy Star. For one thing, Opal was very much its own band, with Kendra Smith's particular lyrical visions of mystic power and universe-scaling dreams and nightmares its own entity. As is her singing, though she's got less of Hope Sandoval's wistful drift and more focused control — check out the brief "A Falling Star," where the comparatively stripped-down arrangement places her singing in the foreground, notably without much in the way of echo. Roback's playing certainly won't surprise anyone per se who backtracks to this group from albums like She Hangs Brightly, and the atmosphere of textured, moody power is evident right from the start with the wonderful early T. Rex tribute, "Rocket Machine." The compressed string swirl and steady stomp is pure Marc Bolan-via-Tony Visconti, though Smith avoids Bolan's style of warble for her own cool, something also quite evident on the slow-groove stomp of the great "She's a Diamond" and the concluding "Soul Giver." Meanwhile, other familiar elements Roback would later use are present aplenty — very Ray Manzarek-like organ lines on the mantra-chugs of "Magick Power" and "Siamese Trap," compressed acid rock solos and lots of reverb. The title track itself stands out a bit as being a bit more of a '60s Europop confection in a stripped-down 1968 setting — Roback's electric guitar adds some fire, but it's the slightly jazz-tinged rhythm and easy delivery from Smith that helps establish its own character. It's a release that stood out both in time and place (a 1987 release on SST Records, of all places!), but it stands up to future years and listens darn well.
[Ned Raggett, allmusic.com]