The Critters were one of the greatest of the soft pop groups of the '60s, as evidenced by their singles, but in 1966, it was still unfortunately common for great groups to release albums marked with too much filler material. The Critters fall victim to this (although it probably wasn't their fault), dropping in a few tepid numbers between their shining moments of brilliance. The group excels at the more sunshine pop/Association-style ballad songs where they are able to showcase their melodies and arrangements. The more "rock" songs manage to be less convincing. When in the middle of one of their pop songs like "Gone for Awhile" or "Mr. Dieingly Sad," it's obvious that the Critters were one of the best at concocting candy-coated psychedelia. The group's first single, the Jackie DeShannon-penned "Children and Flowers," is included here, and although its idealized sentiment and school-age poetry may stick out, the song is so well-composed that all is forgiven. Sure, the Lovin' Spoonful may have written "Younger Girl," but it should never have been anything but a Critters song. The group's original songs are perfect slices of rainy-day pop not unlike the Cyrkle. A song like "Come Back on a Rainy Day" is characterized by its gentle, cascading harmonies -- rising and falling over a lightly tapped-out rhythm. It's a perfect pop moment captured in less than two minutes. Meanwhile, "I Wear a Silly Grin" has the same blend of bubblegum and soul that the Box Tops were so good at. But a song like "It Just Won't Be That Way" is all Beatnik bluster and not terribly interesting, despite a very promising neo-tribal/surf intro. A few other songs fall under this filler characterization, but they always manage to balance it out with a song like "Don't Let the Rain Fall Down on Me," which is a mid-tempo finger-snapper with a fine ascending melody and Beach Boys-styled vocal layering. The buildup and release -- and final return of the chorus -- should be trademarked. It's a shame that the Critters weren't able to make a cohesive album, but the wealth of sublime soft pop singles that they brought into the world almost makes up for it. ~ Jon Pruett
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