Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.


Wax And Wane

Those hearing Garlands for the first time who only know the bands other material will likely be more than a little surprised. Whereas the typical vision of the Twins is of beautiful washes of sounds and exultant vocals from Fraser, on Garlands the original trio is still only part of the way there. Instead, the best comparison points are to Siouxsie And The Banshees, the Cure on Faith and Pornography, perhaps Metal Box-era PiL, a touch of Joy Division here and there; in sum, deep, heavy mood verging on doom and gloom. Bassist Will Heggie, in the only full album he did with the Twins, clearly follows the Peter Hook/Simon Gallup style of low, ominous throb, while Guthrie's guitar work more often than not screeches loudly than shimmers. Fraser's singing has a starker edge, unsettling even at its most accessible, sometimes completely disturbing at other times. The strongest track, "Wax and Wane," has the trio creating a powerful but also surprisingly danceable track, the crisp drum machine beat working against Guthrie's compelling atmospherics and Fraser's vocal hook in the chorus.

The thing about the Cocteau Twins that interests me the most is how much their sound changed in a manner of only two years. "Treasure" was released 1984, often considered their magnum opus along with "Heaven or Las Vegas". The sound of "Garlands" differs almost completely from that of "Treasure". Garlands is much more subdued, darker and mid-tempo than Treasure yet it is by far inferior to Treasure. The sound of Garlands also is post-punk and new-wave(ish) while Treasure is their first true album in which they mastered the dream pop sound that the band is so well-known for. Garlands is not a bad album by no means, it is just different.

Garlands really is a post-punk album, noticed right off the bat on the song "Blood Bitch". The sound is subdued and trippy, pretty much the overall sound of the album is like this. However, what can be noticed right away is the influences. While it is unfair to say Cocteau Twins ripped off the sound of Siouxsie And The Banshees and The Cure, it is so similar to the sound of both of these bands. The thing is Post-Punk is not a genre known for variation. A lot of bands sound similar to each other, the big four of Proto-Goth (Bauhaus, The Cure, The Banshees, and Joy Division) all sound rather similar on their first albums. "Blood Bitch" is more of like a subdued down-tempo version of Kaleidoscope era Siouxsie mixed with a hint of The Cure Faith era, sprinkle in some Bauhaus and you have the main influences of "Blood Bitch". "Blood Bitch" is what the album mostly sounds like, the distorted guitars, the drum machine, the Siouxsie influenced Elizabeth Fraser singing in tongues is the only thing that differs this band from the average post-punk band.

“Wax and Wane” is the most well-known song off of this album. The song is more up-tempo compared to that of Blood Bitch or even the rest of the album. The lotus-like sound of the catchy guitar line in the song, the catchy chorus in the song, everything is catchy about this song. The most poppy song off of this post-punk album is Wax and Wane compared to the hit or miss of the second side of Garlands. If anything, Wax and Wane is the reason to buy this album.


Perfectly Hummable Choruses

Armed with trumpeters Ray Martinez and Hurricane Smith who add soaring flourishes and energetic blasts throughout Kilimanjaro, the Teardrops explode in a torrent of creative, kicky and often downright fun songs that hotwire garage/psych inspirations into something more. Julian Cope is already a commanding singer and front man; his clever lyrics and strong projection result in a series of confident performances, whether he is trading lines with himself on the motorbike chug of "Sleeping Gas" or his yelps on "Books." For all the bad energy between himself and David Balfe, the two sound like they're grafted at the hip throughout; the latter's keyboard washes and staccato melodies adding the fun, nervy vibe. Gary Dwyer's spot-on drumming keeps the pace, while both guitarists, Mick Finkler and his replacement Alan Gill, don't drown the band in feedback to the exclusion of everything else. One listen to many of Gill's pieces, on songs like "Poppies," and Cope's oft-stated claim that early U2 was trying to rip off the Teardrops and other Liverpool/Manchester groups makes sense. Though it was assembled from a variety of different sessions Kilimanjaro still sounds cohesive. Perfectly hummable choruses, great arrangements and production and Cope's smiling vibe all add up with fantastic results. 

The 30th anniversary reissue of the Teardrop Explodes' Kilimanjaro recently spurred one heritage-rock magazine to ask the band's former front man Julian Cope if he would ever return to writing pop music. It seems a fair enough query given Kilimanjaro's success: it spawned a top 10 hit in Reward, spent 35 weeks on the charts and displayed such commercial promise that both U2 and Duran Duran apparently considered the Teardrop Explodes their only real competition. Cope told the magazine, he'd just written a pop song, inspired by the mid-60s baroque style of the Left Banke, a band not so wildly removed from the kind of influences that powered Kilimanjaro – the blasting brass arrangements of Forever Changes-era Love, the Seeds' reedy garage rock, the sunshine pop of the Turtles. "It's called," he added, "The Cunts Can Fuck Off."

It's hard to reconcile the Julian Cope of today with the 22-year-old you hear on this 3CD deluxe reissue of the first album he made. There's something very  fresh-faced about the music on Kilimanjaro, which replaced the murky, shaky, spindly sound of the Teardrops' early indie singles – collected on CD2 – with a sound that tapped into 60s psych's sunny optimism, rather than its creeping disquiet. Equally, though, there's something rather gimlet-eyed about it. Indeed, the Teardrop Explodes had a weird tendency to combine the wide eyes and the will to power in the same song. "Bless my cotton socks, I'm in the news!" opened Reward, while the faux-naif title and jaunty tune of Brave Boys Keep Their Promises cloaks a load of surprisingly Duncan Bannatyneish stuff about fighting your way to the top.

Five of Kilimanjaro’s 11 songs were released as singles in one form or another, and listening to Treason or Bouncing Babies, you can see why Duran Duran got the fear. The tunes are uniformly fantastic (fantastic enough to overwhelm the production, even when it tends to early-80s chart-bothering smoothness), the words intriguing: long before he actually did create his own unique universe of megaliths, Odinism and krautrock, Cope was cramming his lyrics with enough off-kilter references to suggest he already had. And the sense of swaggering confidence never abates. It sounds like that most beguiling of things: a band at the top of their game. It sounds like a band that could have had it all. As it turned out, that was the last thing their front man wanted.


A Swirl Of Psychedelic Rock

On their debut, Of Skins and Heart, The Church play straightforward pop/rock firmly rooted in new wave, though owing no small debt to '60s pop. Edgier and more direct than their later work, it also ranks among their finest for that very reason. None of the excesses and ambitions that would sometimes get out of hand on later releases are present, though much of the band's basic formula was laid down; Steve Kilbey's cool, detached vocals and slightly surrealistic lyrics combined with some outstanding pop hooks, nice harmonies, and layers of ringing guitar. The classic "Unguarded Moment" (arguably one of the greatest singles of the '80s) overshadows much of the material on the album, but there is really no shortage of great songs here.
While the group never truly gained the popular acclaim many thought was due, The Church have still managed to carve out a consistently interesting career for themselves, moving from underground sensation to (briefly) popular mainstream act to legendary veterans, all while never resting on their laurels. A reassessment of the Australian quartet’s early LP’s is especially useful considering how well it displays the band finding their way toward their signature sound, a swirl of psychedelic rock that contains familiar elements but that sounds like no one but The Church.
Fans who entered The Church following the international success of their fifth album Starfish and its career-defining hit single “Under the Milky Way” might be surprised by the forthright sound of the band’s debut album Of Skins and Heart. The gauzy psychedelia for which the group would become known appears only in hints and glimmers here. Instead the band (bassist/ singer/ songwriter Steve Kilbey, guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, and drummer Nick Ward) boasts a rocking sound that’s more in line with the rising tide of 80’s new wave. It sounds like a young band with talent to burn, eager to get its ideas down on vinyl as quickly and energetically as possible.
The snarling post-punk “Fighter Pilot…Korean War,” the straightforward ballad “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” and the bombastic “Memories in Future Tense” sound very different from the band with which most people would become familiar – the guitars are much more muscular and less pretty. Steve Kilbey had not yet found his style as a vocalist, pushing his natural croon into an urgent yelp influenced by his 70s glam rock heroes. It mostly fits but he occasionally sounds like he’s straining beyond his comfort zone. Sprightly pop rockers like “She Never Said,” “For a Moment We’re Strangers,” “Chrome Injury” (which is marred by a dated electronic percussion thwack) and the Australian hit “The Unguarded Moment” show some of the group’s hallmarks – the uncommon chemistry between Koppes and Willson-Piper’s axes, Kilbey’s enigmatic lyrics – but also have a stripped down, propulsive power folks rarely associate with the band now. The leisurely epic “Is This Where You Live” and the jangling “Bel-Air” give hints of what was to come, but overall Of Skins and Heart sounds like the work of a different band than The Church we all know – though quite a good band, to be sure.


Chasing Scars

Is the post-punk group Scars 

the Last Great Lost Band?


Chances are that you won't remember post-punk band Scars. Their moment in the sun was both tragically and gloriously brief. They stormed out of Edinburgh in the early 1980s possessed of equal parts glam audacity, art-rock solemnity and futuristic zeal. They were roundly hailed as the next great white musical hope. Two Peel sessions and a handful of music-paper covers later, they vanished in a fog of egotism and unhealthy appetites. But not before they delivered their one and only album, 1981's maddeningly beautiful Author! Author!
In the intervening years, Scars have been effectively forgotten. Years ago, Mark E Smith name-checked them as his favourite band ("because they were the complete opposite of the Fall"), and more recently, Lemon Jelly briefly raised Scars' profile by sampling them on their '64-'95 album. But despite guitarist Paul Research's sterling efforts to keep the name alive on his Scars website, the band appeared to be permanently consigned to the dustbin of history. Even in Simon Reynolds' encyclopaedic post-punk history, Rip it Up & Start Again, they merit only the most fleeting of mentions.
Meanwhile, down the last 25 years, every other once-forgotten band of their era has been either endlessly repackaged and/or critically rehabilitated to enable them to enjoy an extension on their fifteen minutes. Even the very worst of the fag-end punk bands (The Lurkers, Chelsea, Slaughter and the Dogs) have been kept on life-support by virtue of their appearance on a thousand and one dodgy service-station compilations. Music monthlies can be relied upon to remind us all of the greatness of cult artists (John Cooper-Clarke, Vic Godard, Penetration's Pauline Murray) who might have accidentally slipped off the radar. Most recently, Castle's CD86 compilation plucked the likes of Darling Buds, Revolving Paint Dream and 14 Iced Bears from the kind of shambling obscurity that most would agree was their deserved fate.
As for Scars, their fate has hardly been helped by the convoluted copyright situation that held up the reissue of Author! Author! for all these years. Now that it's finally here in 24bit audio and sounding as edgy and lovely as it always did, maybe the band can finally enjoy some of the critical acclaim that has long been denied them. If that should come to pass, then this will surely establish them as the Last Great Lost Band to come to our attention. Unless, that is, you readers have any better ideas. Word of warning: the likes of Bram Tchaikovsky, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Stump, Cock Sparrer and Bum Gravy will automatically be disqualified on the grounds that the dustbin of history is exactly where these bands belong.