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.


Modern Love Is Automatic

The Liverpool quintet A Flock of Seagulls first gained attention in the dance clubs with "Telecommunication," included on this debut release. The band benefited from heavy play on MTV and quickly became known for their outrageous fashion and lead singer Mike Score's waterfall-like haircut. However, their self-titled debut is an enjoyable romp that was set apart from other synth-heavy acts of the time by Paul Reynolds' unique guitar style. The kinetic "I Ran (So Far Away)" became a video staple and a Top Ten radio hit. "A Space Age Love Song," with its synthesizer washes and echo-laden guitar, also managed to score at radio. The rest of the album consists of hyperactive melodies, synthesizer noodlings, and electronic drumming. The lyrics are forgettable. In fact, they rarely expand on the song titles, but it’s all great fun and a wonderful collection of new wave ear candy.

Today's punk rock has been broken into sub-sub-sub-genres like blackened grind core, post-emo skramz and reverse-anarcho-alt-garage-neo-cowpunk. Each of these obscure genres place walls between themselves and everyone else. However, there was a brief moment in time (mostly) in the UK in the early 80s, where non-pop music was simply non-pop music. It was entirely possible to hear the Smiths, Bauhaus, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Killing Joke, New Order and A Flock of Seagulls all spinning at the same club.

Yes, that's right, A Flock of Seagulls, a victim and a beneficiary to their own marketing. Numerous Adam Sandler movies and Grand Theft Auto games have, in part, painted A Flock of Seagulls as the archetypical cheesy 80s pop synth band. That's not to say that the band shied away from accepting the neon-yellow, plastic sceptre accompanying the role. Indeed, the band released numerous compilations playing up the white polyester blazers and hairspray imagery of the mid 80s. So, if the band is set to receive musical accompaniment to back the tale of their historical placement, surely the instrument used is a violin no larger than a thimble.
But from a critical standpoint, it's a shame because the group's self-titled debut is far more in the realm of post-punk and early experimental electronica than that of Jordache and plastic earrings.
The album opens with "Modern Love is Automatic." A cold rushing wind blows across the speakers before a Berlin-ish synth line descends. An aggressive, but sturdy drum and bass line march forward, not dissimilar to Joy Division's early programmed-music experiments. Finally, vocalist Mike Score sings in a restrained, robotic voice, lamenting that in the modern (80s) age, emotions are as much driven by marketing and corporate interests as they are true affection. Certainly, such a sentiment is more in line with Zounds than Kajagoogoo.
Likewise, "Modern Love is Automatic" could have been slipped into a mid-period Bauhaus album and no one would have been the wiser. Score somewhat mimics the ghostly wail of Peter Murphy while gothic, intricate guitar work floats in the background. Much like Murphy, Score laments the loss of a love and vows to hold true for all time, giving the slightest of nods towards vampirism - something only a young man could sing and get away with. The song closes with multi-tracked wailing which has, in time, become the stock vocal effect of Goth albums.
The album's true masterpiece and darkest cut is "Standing in the Doorway." A Kraftwerkian pulsation starts the piece as the sounds of a machine blip and beep. Then suddenly, a thunderous snap cuts off the machinery and the song tears into what could be called a more punk Tubeway Army jam. As a sinister line creeps in the background, Score screams at an unidentified woman "Standing in the doorway, I can see you!" It's not clear if he's a stalker or a husband come home too early, but his menace seems genuine. He says little else because really, that's the only threat he needs to make.
Even "I Ran," which is often thought of as the song of the 80s, becomes a different creature when listened to in the context of its surrounding brothers. Where it has become a song used as the backdrop for cruising one's convertible along a shore line, in isolation, it is a much darker song. Opening with a minor chord synth rumble, the song then snaps forward and tells the tale of grasping for an idealized version of something and unable to grasp. Perhaps because the chorus is so catchy, rarely does the listener stick around for the end, where the guitars crumble before self-destructing in a violent din.
A Flock of Seagulls' first album isn't necessary a long lost punk classic. It's classic, of course, but not strictly punk, or even post-punk. But without question, it has elements of those genres and uses them to their greatest extent. Perhaps that's why this album is so threatening to modern music critique. Instead of giving a full chance to a multi-textured and clever combination of darker music, it's easier to focus on silly haircuts and file it away neatly in a drawer, mislabelled as it may be.


In The Garden

Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, is the missing link between the work of the Tourists, who included both Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, and 1983's commercial breakthrough, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Co-produced by Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank at his studio in Germany, it has some of the distant, mechanistic feel of the European electronic music movement, but less of the pop sensibility of later Eurythmics. The chief difference is in Lennox's singing; even when the musical bed is appealing, Lennox floats ethereally over it, and the listener doesn't focus on her. As a result, In the Garden wasn't much of a success, though when Eurythmics streamlined their sound and emphasized Lennox's dominating voice on subsequent releases, they found mass popularity.

In a nutshell, In The Garden is a hidden gem. I say “hidden” because initially, even though the band was signed to RCA, the record was only available in the US as an import. Recorded at Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne, in Germany, in 1981. In The Garden belies its humble origins and stands the test of time, more than anything simply because it comes from the heart. Produced by Plank himself (who’d produced Devo and Kraftwerk) and featuring Blondie’s Clem Burke on drums and Can’s Holgar Czukey on (amongst other things) “Thai stringed instruments and French horn”, the record could have very easily kicked off the electro-clash movement; if historians hadn’t seen fit to slot in this particular episode a decade or so later.
Clem’s recruitment came about because Dave and Annie saw him in a club and Annie persuaded Dave to go up to him and ask him if he wanted to join. And Holgar? Well, “Holgar was always around at Conny’s and Conny himself was always so stimulating and interesting and Holgar just happened to be too. As well as being extremely eccentric and great fun to play with.” Holgar, of course, had been Stockhausen’s star pupil and Stockhausen’s son, Marcus, ended up playing brass on In The Garden. You can tell the Blondie influences on, in particular, Your Time Will Come, but whether this is anything to do with Clem or Annie’s personal fascination with Debbie Harry is a moot point. For Annie, Blondie was “the ultimate pop band” although for others this is something that Eurythmics were soon to become themselves.
Listening to In The Garden now, some three and a half decades after its release, is to be transported back to an era when electronic artists like Depeche Mode and Human League and even David Bowie ruled the airwaves. There are other influences too: Dave’s guitar work is reminiscent of both Chameleons and Magazine and the track Take Me To Your Heart is all lost-future, contemporaneous Kraftwek. Another track, namely She’s Invisible Now, is almost defiantly no wave (if you remember that, you really have been paying attention) with more than a nod to Marbles’ nature of the song is no more-or-less offset by the “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1″ countdown which gives an even more recognizable nod to Bowie’s Space Oddity. Moreover, as if to prove her European credentials, Annie sings in French on Sing Sing and of revenge on, ahem, Revenge a theme that Eurythmics would return to on a later record.
Ultimately, of course, In The Garden is the tale of Eurythmics taking flight for the first time, of Dave and Annie striding out into the world as equals, as one and of them letting their hair down after the trials and tribulations of The Tourists. It has innocence and beauty and is probably unlike every other Eurythmics record you will ever hear. For some Eurythmics’ aficionados it is their favourite record. And for others, quite soon, it may become theirs too.


I Have The Power

Like most of Jello Biafra's work, Lard's songs are angrily political but often have a tinge of humour. Lard, however, stood out a bit for a Jello project. Featuring Ministry's Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker with Jeff Ward on drums, Lard felt more like a real band than a long distance tape swapping affair. 

That said, Lard’s initial EP, The Power of Lard, emphasizes both the good and the bad about Lard. The first two tracks, "The Power of Lard" and "Hellfudge", are both rather good, particularly the groovy "Hellfudge". It demonstrated a style that was more rock than Ministry's general style and a good base for Jello's unique vocal style. But the thirty-one minute "Time To Melt" is a rather misguided song. Featuring very little variation in the riff and plodding tempo, this song truly goes on and on and on. Aside from the members of the band who recorded this track and three diehard Biafra fans, I don't think anyone has ever sat through the entire duration of the song. Actually, I just did while setting up this review and I feel like the last half hour was just robbed from me. You can play almost any one or two minute excerpt from this song and hear all there is to know about it. It foreshadows Ministry's eventual drudgery they released in the mid to late 90s, so be warned.
Fortunately, the first two songs are enjoyable and helped pave the way for the band's monster full length, Last Temptation of Reid, which is still my choice for Jello's best post-Dead Kennedys release. The Power of Lard is worth getting for the first two songs, chances are you'll never sit through the entire "Time to Melt" and your life will be better off for it.


Born To Be Wild

The music this filthy bunch of loud-ass leather-clad faux bikers created was a cross between AC/DC, Deep Purple, The Cult and the Porky’s movies. Big fat simple riffs, sneering, snarling vocals and incomprehensible lyrics about sex, drugs, booze and going as long as possible without taking a bath.

Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction's story starts in the year 1985: In a musical world of hairspray and spandex, two long-haired, leather-clad rockers were introduced to each other by their "exotic dancer" girlfriends. One, a graphic artist and poet, the other, a budding philosopher. They immediately dropped everything, joined forces and created the dirtiest, wildest band of all time. One year later, they signed to Polygram, released, the groundbreaking "High Priest of Love" EP, and subsequently the "Tattooed Beat Messiah" album, containing the classic single "Prime Mover".
Overnight, they accidentally changed the look of all the rock bands of the time from the obligatory spandex, eye liner and tinsel, to rough biker jackets, engineer boots and goatees. Mötley Crüe declared them to be their favourite band and immediately restyled themselves for the "Girls, Girls, Girls" record.
Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction grew in notoriety, touring the world and America, co-headlining arenas and theatres with Guns N' Roses and found themselves at home playing festivals and baseball stadiums with Iron Maiden. After attending a Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction concert at the Hammersmith Odeon and giving it his seal of approval, Alice Cooper took to the studio and recorded the Zodiac Mindwarp tune "Feed My Frankenstein", which was later performed in the film "Wayne's World"... The critical acclaim of Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction did, however, cause some rare misfortune, when they lost their young naive bass player to the lures of The Cult.
Zodiac Mindwarp covered Born to be Wild because he thought they could do a better job than the Cult (on Electric). The band soldiered on regardless. Sometime later, in Paris, Slam Thunderhide, their drummer, decided to put down his sticks to become a go-go dancer in Vancouver. Outstanding!


Understated Scaring

If there was one word to describe Lush, it would be understated. Hardcore shoegazers are most of who are aware of their significance to the genre's development through the late 1980's and early 1990's. But while starting a genre is quite an accomplishment, the band that popularized and mastered it is usually the one that takes all the glory (three guesses who). But while shoegazing would blossom into being mainly comprised of dense soundscapes and psychedelic effects, Scar shows how minimalistic songwriting and simplicity can accomplish the same goal. Scar's biggest strength lies in its ability to convey atmosphere and mood with a minimum of production flourishes or instrumental finesse. Simple guitar riffs and uptempo drumming throw the seasoned listener off with a very different sound altogether. "Baby Talk" beings with an upbeat bass intro before the rest of the band comes in and vocalist Emma Anderson repeats the lines "Swallowed her down, she's inside me. She's struggling now, she can't break free. And my eyes are closed, my lips are sealed. She can't escape but I can feel." Morbid lyrics like these add to the eeriness of the hypnotic guitar riffs. The album highlight "Scarlet" makes use of some dissonant riffs over angelic vocals and repetitive drumming to create a unique and eerie atmosphere far more sinister than most of Lush's genre contemporaries with a roaring crescendo closing it out.

Meshing dreamy, feedback-drenched guitars with airy, catchy melodies, Lush were one of the most prominent shoegazing bands of the early '90s. Led by guitarists Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, the British band earned a cult following within the British and American undergrounds with its first EPs, yet the group never quite attained the critical respect given to its peers My Bloody Valentine and Ride. Even so, Lush lasted longer than any other of their contemporaries (with the exception of the Boo Radleys), developing sharp pop skills as their career progressed. By the time of their final album, 1996's Lovelife, they had converted themselves into a power pop band with dream pop overtones, which resulted in the greatest chart success of their career. Their success was dealt a blow when drummer Chris Acland committed suicide in the fall of 1996, effectively bringing the band to an end.
Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, Chris Acland, Steve Rippon (bass), and Meriel Barham (guitar) formed Lush in 1988 in London, England. Prior to the group's formation, school friends Berenyi and Anderson had collaborated on a fanzine together, as well as played in a number of other bands individually. Anderson, who had been working as a DHSS clerical assistant, had played bass with the Rover Girls, while Berenyi had been a member of I-Goat, Fuhrer Five, and the Lillies. Berenyi's then-boyfriend, Acland had previous played with several other groups as well, including Panik, Infection, and A Touch of Hysteria. Barham left Lush soon after the band's formation to form the Pale Saints, and the remaining members began playing around London, quickly earning a number of fans, including Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins. Guthrie helped the band secure a contract with 4AD Records, and they released their acclaimed debut EP, Scar, in 1989. Lush supported the EP with opening tours for Loop and the Darling Buds, and by 1990, they had graduated to headlining tours of their own.
Throughout 1990, the band's reputation in the British music press began to grow as they released the acclaimed EPs Mad Love and Sweetness and Light, played high-profile gigs like the Glastonbury Festival, and became favorites of the music weeklies' gossip columns. Gala, an album compiling their three EPs, became the band's first American release at the end of 1990. Lush spent most of 1991 recording their debut album, releasing the Black Spring EP in the spring. Rippon left the band during the sessions, and was replaced by Philip King, a former picture researcher for NME and a previous member of Felt, Servants, and Biff Bang Pow. Lush finally released their delayed debut album, Spooky, in the spring of 1992. While the album sold well, reaching the British Top Ten and topping the U.K. indie charts, it was criticized in the press for Guthrie's heavy-handed production. The band supported the album in America by appearing on the second Lollapalooza tour, but their dream pop wasn't well-received by an audience hungry for metal. Lush released their second album, Split, in the summer of 1994 to mixed reviews. Split was lost in the twin waves of Brit-pop and American post-grunge, even through the band's songwriting was more pop-oriented than ever.
After regrouping during 1995, Lush returned in early 1996 with Lovelife, an album that showcased a debt to the pop-single ideals of Brit-pop. The musical changeover paid off as "Single Girl" and "Ladykiller" became their two biggest hit singles, and the album became a British Top 20 hit; in America, it was their highest-charting album, even if it just scraped the charts at 189. Lush had completed their supporting tours and summer festival appearances when Chris Acland unexpectedly hanged himself in his parent's house on October 17, 1996. Devastated by his death, the remaining members of Lush went into a long period of mourning, eventually disbanding. 


Dressed To Kill

The band was formed in the toilets of the Wapping Anarchy Centre, established by the efforts of seminal Anarchist bands Crass and Poison Girls, in 1980. One week after forming Hagar the Womb played their first gig with Zounds and The Mob. The band were originally all-female in an attempt to add a female voice to what they saw as a male-dominated movement, and the band refused to conform to the stylistic constrictions associated with bands of the time.
The band toured the UK punk circuit for five years releasing two 12” singles and recording a Peel Session. Their first offering The Word of the Womb EP (released on Conflict’s Mortarhate label) dominated the UK Indie Chart during 1984.

Hagar the Womb were a female fronted, rather colourful and refreshing band, who wanted to have a little more fun than just shouting out the same gloomy political message that so many other bands of the time were doing. After being ignored and laughed at by those who ran the Wapping Anarchy Centre for trying to speak their minds and contributing ideas, several of the women decided to start a band so they could be taken more seriously. In London during 1980, Ruth, Karen, Amden and Nicola Corcoran all decided to become the vocalists, Janet Nassim became the guitarist and Stepth Cohen played the bass, while Andy Martin from The Apostles helped them by giving them a place to practice in and a drummer named Scarecrow. The band was offered their first gig at the Centre a week after forming. Coming up with a name that had no meaning, and playing a somewhat chaotic gig supporting The Mob and Zounds, Hagar The Womb cranked out early versions of "Dressed to Kill" and "Puff the Magic Dragon".
After several gigs, people began to take notice of the band; their lyrics, which were much more personal instead of always being about war and bombs; their clothes, which were more colourful and not uniform black like several "Crass clone" bands were doing. Instead of being anti-everything, the band were anti-labelling and tried to be wild. After recording their first demo, the track 'For The Ferryman' was taken to appear on  Mortarhate's 'Who? What? Why? When? Where' compilation. In 1984, Hagar The Womb released their debut 12” E.P. titled "Word of The Womb" on the Mortarhate label. It was engineered by Pete Fender from Rubella Ballet/Omega Tribe, at Heart and Souls Studios, Walthamstow in East London.


Old Tarts

Poison Girls were an incredible force of nature. Spat out from the underbelly of the UK punk scene, they paired up with a dodgy band down the road called Crass. The two bands played 100 shows together in the span of three years and they bonded on a conceptual and artistic way to approach punk.  

Vi Subversa was a child in the East End of London during the Second World War, an evacuee during the Blitz, became part of the Soho anarchist scene of the 50s, took part in the original CND march to Aldermaston, then a counter culture drop out of the 60s, finally found herself in the mid 70s, aged 40, with two children, living in Brighton. There, along with Richard Famous, Lance d'Boyle and Bella Donna - all attached to activities at Brighton's Resources Centre (an old Presbyterian church with a rehearsals and gig space in its vaults) she formed Poison Girls.

After relocating to the Burleigh House squat near Epping and eventually recruiting Bernhardt Rebours on bass, Poison Girls first music release was 1979's Piano Lessons / Closed Shop on their own Xntrix label in collaboration with Pete Stennett's Small Wonder Records (Bauhaus, The Cure, Patrik Fitzgerald, Crass, Cravats, Anthrax....), a local shop-based independent record label.

Later in 1979 followed HEX.  Recorded at Southern Studios, produced by Penny Rimbaud and engineered by John Loder, HEX is a 12” 45rpm mini-album, again released with the help of Small Wonder Records.

HEX is an extraordinary punk record. With additional vocals by Eve Libertine of Crass and including contributions by Vi Subversa's children; Pete Fender and Gem Stone (also known as Honey Bane), the album lays out the band's vision in Vi's searing lyrics against a backdrop of deep, beautiful and sometimes frightening music. Vi channels the anger and frustrations of any mother living in what was (and still is) a mans world.

From the opening salvo “If I had my time again, I’d like to come back as a man!” to the final “Reality Attack, Reality Attack Reality ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK” the record bristles with a fiery passion and intensity. The lyrics explore the expectations of normality, political correctness, pressures of conformity, pain and mental illness and the horrors of war. The music is diamond hard but with a tender edge, and the whole soundscape is overlaid with ‘found’ recordings of everyday life.


Slates, Slags, etc

Originally released in a time when "neither an EP nor an LP" was different and not a marketing gimmick, 1981's “Slates” was issued as a 10", but its six tight songs didn't have that key track to make it as revered as other Fall releases of the time. "Leave the Capitol," "Middle Mass," and "Prole Art Threat" deserve their place in the Fall's hall of fame, but compared to the second, punchy and polished version of "Lie Dream," they sound a bit anaemic. Not a bad taster if you're new and want some post-punk, pre-pop Fall; 90 percent of this is prime material.

If you know someone who's never heard the Fall and you want to indicate how fucking great they can be, the sheer breadth and scope of them, then “Slates” would be the handshake moment. “Slates” is the one you'd have stuck on Voyager to let future civilisations understand just what the Fall were about.
A concentrated/miniature/cameo.
Also the first Fall release where each song/piece inhabits a different sound world, the point of escape velocity where Mark E Smith began to outgrow both the media preconceptions of his band and his own band mates (possibly even his own blind spots about what exactly the Fall could be or became).

A misleading generalisation of course, but you can divide the Fall roughly into
three stages: 78-83 marking territory and refusing to explain, 84-89 pop and fascinating for it; and thereafter (every Fall follower has their own dating system from here-on-in), settling/eroding into being... not anything as slight as merely, but simply the Fall, allowing for that the listener can pick the bones out and is at least slimly conversant with the language around these parts. The first stage though, they were - no lie - a great psychedelic band. If you have any love for them, the temptation is to nominate one of the bigger, more obvious statements (the substance-pagan of Dragnet or the dense quasi-envoi of Hex) but really, “Slates” is the one, if only because in conception, execution and effect, it's entirely sidereal. “Slates” is the Fall putting the foot on the brake, halting and looking around, beginning to rummage inward.
Apparently, “Slates” was the music that made Brix fall for the Fall, the start of a process that would energise and popularise their unique vocab. It's a nice story, both romantic and convenient. I've no doubt that it's as true in benign retrospect as it was at the time of its happening. “Slates” is like that too; a true lie. Entirely right and cogent and sharpeyed, but also somehow yardstaring and distracted and deep. All the more worthy of congratulation for being a happy accident; chance encounters shared. Some folk meditate, and I've tried that too, and sometimes it's just what the mind needs; but sometimes I've taken those twenty-odd minutes and listened to “Slates” instead; the anti-meditation you sometimes require to face the world, a small journey, a distinct destination.


Dr. John

Although John Cooper-Clarke's caustic brand of "talking in tune" initially earned him the label of the new wave George Formby, he soon won recognition as the British punk scene's poet laureate. Following the Innocents EP and the 1978 album Où Est la Maison de Fromage? (Both on Martin Hannett's Rabid Records), Disguise in Love was Clarke's major-label debut. This album finds the Manchurian bard at his adenoidal, alliterative best, delivering some of his more memorable satirical verses. Fixated on the daily, warts-and-all miseries of life in post-war Britain and beyond, Clarke casts a wide misanthropic net, taking on everything from track suits to extraterrestrials. The Invisible Girls (featuring Bill Nelson, Pete Shelley, and Martin Hannett) provide musical backing that complements each poem, from a minimal, heartbeat-style jogging groove ("Health Fanatic") to a cheesy disco pastiche ("Post War Glamour Girl"). Clarke's performance works well with these arrangements, especially on "(I Married A) Monster From Outer Space" (a story of intergalactic love gone wrong set to sci-fi electronics) and "Readers' Wives," on which lurid observations on D.I.Y. Polaroid porn are adorned with an appropriately kitschy soundtrack. Clarke's ear for the rhythms of everyday language and his galloping, sometimes staccato delivery can be best appreciated on two unaccompanied pieces: "Salome Maloney," an apocalyptic tale of ballroom dancing and death, and "Psycle Sluts 1&2," an amphetamine-paced paean to biker women praised by Frank Zappa as an example of Clarke's "exquisite diction." While it's a testament to Clarke's comic sensibility that these tracks remain laugh-out-loud funny, it's also important to recognize him as an innovator. Just as pop writers like the Mersey poets made Clarke's work possible, so Clarke opened the doors for numerous (less-talented) ranters and popular wordsmiths such as Attila the Stockbroker, Joolz, Seething Wells, and Benjamin Zephaniah.

For many, the decision on John Cooper Clarke still rests on the combination of words and music. People who remember the singles and who've copped listens of this album have complained that the music gets in the way of  Clarke's dazzlingly inimitable wordiness. This is crap, not just because solo Clarke is too dry in repeated and large doses but because the music on this album is FUNNY!
This album could be the perfect Eno-song album. The eleven poems - two unaccompanied and nine soaked in cool electronic shuffles, soothed by pretty mechanical patterns - are suffused with an erotic intensity and gossamer fragility that's really convincing. They are laid over short, evocative aural landscapes that include 'coitus interruptus' dub effects, voice treatments, echoes, whimsical little melodies, overlapping rhythms, layered guitars, spacey bass and silly sound effects.
The music itself is put together by a number of experienced Manchurian hands. Martin (Zero) Hannett, a brand new whizz kid of the mixing board who has produced two of this decade's classics in “Spiral Scratch” and “Jilted John,” produces the album and composes the music with a guy called Hopkins (blowed if I can remember his christian name). Guitarists Peter Shelley and Bill Nelson are known to have contributed. The 'compositions' are executed with much humour, insensitivity and craft. The record is produced for Rabid Entertainments, which should give you some idea of the way to approach it. Lopsided. John Cooper Clarke and friends are making machine music and telling us to go get stoned.
The likes of Clarke's verbal virtuosity and dexterity had been unknown since that great eccentric, aristocrat and surrealist Edith Sitwell. He has an exquisite a sense of the trivial as Henry Green's; his words are as energetic and as sick as Evelyn Waugh's. There is both the concentration on evil and seediness of Graham Greene and the continual sense of his own inadequacy that he shares in some ways with Philip Larkin.
Clarke is a poet who reports from the dusty, mediocre, useless and distasteful corners of real life. Thugs, sluts and flabby flesh. Inadequacy, revenge and the grimness of the sexual experiences. All political, religious, sociological and psychological implications are not incidental. His poetry is brilliant: verse not as poetry (which is produced under the kind of pressure that 'cannot' be faked) but as devious and didactic criticism. And his poems tell stories.
Side one starts with a bang. The exuberant northern wit of “I Don't Wanna Be Nice” sounds like Eno producing The Slits. It features the first definitive Peter Shelley solo since “Friends Of Mine” at the Doncaster Outlook mid-77, even if it was played by Bill Nelson. Five minutes of the maniacal “Psycle Sluts 1 & 2” follows: alliteration, spit, protruding imagery, breathlessness, the glorious rhythmic energy of the unaccompanied John Cooper Clarke.
The small fun of “(I've Got A Brand New) Tracksuit” combined with the meticulous Eno-cum-Diddley structure adds up to major fun, which in itself proves the worth of the comic musical settings. The fun-highbrow music intensifies the words' hilarity so that, like the best comedy albums, it can be played again and again.
Side one finishes with a run of Clarke's better poems. “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” has a marvellous hook, “Readers Wives” is a classic observation, has the lushest Eno parody and so is therefore best cut on the record, and “Post War Glamour Girl” is the single.
Side two opens with “(I Married A) Monster From Outer Space,” set inspirationally to gratuitous electronic weirdness, with Cooper Clarke's quivering voice echoed for more unpredictable atmosphere. The next piece is again a dry unaccompanied burst, a frantically detailed piece of trivia about ballroom dancing no doubt dedicated to Eric Morley my younger brother. The unmistakeable message of “Health Fanatic” has snug Eno-electronic support and a hilarious dub-coughing playout. The tragi-comic “Strange Bedfellows” is tearful and mechanical featuring an ice cold Bill Nelson solo that may well be by Peter Shelley. And how else to finish but with a flattened soft-soul smooch to back up a gentle lament for the trapped middle-class middle-aged woman in “Valley Of The Lost Women.” Just to unsettle you, it drifts into the distance with casual despondency. Side two finishes with a whimper.
Cooper Clarke resolutely avoids the serious and the sentimental for the grotesque and the irresistible. He is a gifted and zestful perpetrator of sardonic morality. The deadpan choice of music (right at the beginning of '77 the plan was to have poetry backed by Tom Waits-type cocktail or tinkling) is inspired. It's noise of the times (bland/electronic/disco) for observation of the times, as suitable in context as Jim Parker's swinging nostalgia arrangements for John Betjeman's slight poems on the poet's
Charisma albums, nasal and lazy. The problems of how to handle John Cooper Clarke on record, away from the advantageous atmosphere of a live recital, have been handled triumphantly. Clarke leads two separate lives. If you really are worried about muzakle interference - don't. The music is cute and all integrity is retained.
The 'familiar world' is cruelly, gaily or sadly dislocated. After you've played this record, what do you do? (EJACULATE!!) and start all over again.
Paul Morley


Gravest Hits

Few bands actually spawn entire genres of music but The Cramps did that and their sound spawned what is now referred to as psychobilly. They mixed punk rock, surf, rockabilly, and garage rock to create a sound unlike anything else at the time. On top of that, the band’s performances were a thing of legend with enigmatic frontman, Lux Interior, writhing around the stage while his wife, Poison Ivy, hypnotized the audience with her guitar work. They were quite a spectacle both visually and audibly.
The Cramps put out two singles on their own label, Vengeance Records, before signing to IRS Records, who compiled them on a 12″ EP titled Gravest Hits. This just so happened to be the first Cramps record I bought and I fell in love with it.

This first release by the Cramps shows the group laying out many of the aspects of their curious style in rudimentary fashion. Raw, slashing guitar playing derived mostly from rockabilly and somewhat from psychedelic and 1960s garage pop (the group would have no bass player until the mid-'80s) and primitive drumming provide the platform for Lux Interior's eccentric singing, which is best described as a hyper-crazed, reverb-drenched, exhibitionist rockabilly style complete with groaning, shouting, growling, and hiccuping effects. The only song written by the band here is "Human Fly," a skulking mid-tempo fuzz-guitar number with monster movie lyrics; the line "I got 96 tears/And 96 eyes" is a sly reference to the ? and the Mysterians garage band hit. The other selections are covers of classic 1950s and 1960s songs; these include a bizarre version of the Ricky Nelson crooning hit "Lonesome Town" that peppers the musical texture with stray guitar interjections, and a rip-snorting version of the Trashmen song "Surfin' Bird" that ends with a long, noisy improvisation section of doubtful tonal focus. The cavernous sound quality here lends a certain bleak feel to the music, but distortions on the vocal in "Human Fly" and drums on "Lonesome Town" merely sound poor. This unpolished but effective release is worth hearing.


Fire Of Love

The Gun Club's debut is the watermark for all post-punk roots music. This features the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce's swamped-out brand of roiling rock, swaggerific hell-bound blues, and gothic country. With Pierce's wailing twinned with Ward Dotson's lonesome slide guitar and spine-shaking riffs, the solid yet off-the-rails rhythm section of bassist Rob Ritter and drummer Terry Graham, the Gun Club burst out of L.A. in the early '80s with a bone to pick and a mountain to move (and they accomplished both on their debut album). With awesome, stripped to the frame production by the Flesh Eaters' Chris D. and Tito Larriva of the Plugz, Fire Of Love blew away all expectations  and with good reason. Nobody had heard music like this before or since. Pierce's songs were rooted in his land of Texas. On "Sex Beat," a razor-sharp country one-two shuffle becomes a howling wind as Pierce's wasted; half-sung half-howled vocals relate a tale of voodoo, sex, dope, and death. The song choogles like a freight train coming undone in a twister. Here Black Flag, the Sex Pistols, Son House, and the coughing, hacking rambling ghost of Hank Williams all converge in a reckless mass of seething energy and nearly evil intent. As if the opener weren't enough of a jolt, the Gun Club follow this with a careening version of Son House's "Preachin’ the Blues," full of staccato phrasing and blazing slide. But it isn't until the anthemic, opiate-addled country of "She's Like Heroin to Me" and the truly frightening punk-blues of "Ghost On The Highway" that the listener comes to grip with the awesome terror that is the Gun Club. The songs become rock & roll ciphers, erasing themselves as soon as they speak, heading off into the whirlwind of a storm that is so big, so black, and so awful one cannot meditate on anything but its power. Fire Of Love may be just what the doctor ordered, but to cure or kill is anybody's guess.

“Why are these songs not taught in schools?” So asked Jack White in 2008, citing “Sex Beat”, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” and “For the Love of Ivy”. Careful examination of them, as much of this fiery 1981 debut which pioneered post-punk roots music, may provide a self-evident answer why impressionable tots may not want to be exposed to sex, drugs and promises of a third element added after the first two: death. But it all sounds like (semi-?) Grown-up fun, 11 tracks that wallop on this reissue as exciting, entertaining and evil as ever.
Jeffery Lee Pierce’s howling vocals, backed by Ward Dotson’s slide and lead guitar, and two recruits from Los Angeles punks the Bags, Rob Ritter on bass and Terry Graham on drums, fire this album up. Produced half by Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters and half by Tito Larriva of the Plugz, it carries a ramshackle feel that the original vinyl with hiss and crackle and a very low budget conveyed vividly.
This reissue heightens the impact of the raw sound. While on its Ruby Records vinyl original, what after all is a punk-era indie LP, may not satisfy purists. Pierce’s poetry, as in “we sit together drunk like our fathers used to be”, survives his slurred phrasing and the band’s clunky playing. His cover of “Preachin’ the Blues” combines Robert Johnson’s and Son House’s lyrics, showing an intelligent rendering of this classic blues song, updated with Dotson’s ringing slides up and down the frets, and a skittering drum roll from Graham, before Pierce enters, growling.
Following a rockabilly “Sex Beat”, these two track signal the band’s intentions: The Gun Club wanted to be taken seriously, by its punk-blues fusion. Pierce could be light-hearted, but he also could hone his voice and guitar into a threat, making sex seem less a release than a sentence imposed on his intended partner, or target. “We can fuck forever/but you will never get my soul”, the object of his affections is assured in “Sex”. At the end of “Preachin’”, he yowls with similar glee, sure that his calling, one that gets him off the hook of having to do real work for a living, is now attained.
Larriva’s plaintive violin backs “Promise Me” with a slower pace, droning as the fiddle’s few notes sustain under the slide guitar; the band’s use of dynamics on this album merits acclaim. Sequenced well, it mixes tracks from Larriva’s and Chris D’s productions, adding variety in tone and volume. Therefore, “She’s Like Heroin to Me” showcases Pierce’s knack for boastful blues swagger and surprising snips of poetry as when his earnest voice and unsteady pace make him more rather than less believable. “I know my special rider / I can feel her in the dark.” He presents himself as both superhero and everyman, as capable of transport on whatever kind of horse he may summon at night.
“For the Love of Ivy” wobbles as the rhythm section pounds out the basic patterns, while Pierce opens with, “You look just like an Elvis from hell.” The song meanders despite its relative brevity, but it too conveys the sense of a band exploring new ground musically as it figures out its innovations. Pierce’s boasts continue, and akin to an antagonist in a Quentin Tarantino flick, I find them less disturbing. Pierce may be seen as a precursor of complex racial appropriation, or not. It may be for shock value, or it may be drug-fuelled and drink-sodden macho posing. After all, both the blues and punk shared this lyrical and musical stance. The Gun Club figured this out first.
You can hear him hiss “shh” as the song concludes, a feature of the remaster. “Fire Spirit” closes what was side one with a mid-tempo “Fire Spirit”. This allows the band to regain its place in a manner anticipating Pierce and a changing line-up in later years, when the band lost its early edge even as it attained a better grasp of alt-rock standards.
A chugging guitar introduces “Ghost on the Highway” with another rockabilly song to start a side of the vinyl original. “It is not an art statement / to drown a few passionate men”, is likely not a sentiment to be found on either punk or blues records preceding it, I reckon. The offbeat nature of Pierce’s lyric, declamatory and allusive, offer a twist on either genre, and they embed themselves in the songs beneath their busy or lazy melodies. He ends with a moan, and the listener shares his loss.
Side two settles in more. “Jack on Fire” takes the slow burn approach. Again, Pierce adopts a series of claims as he confronts his lover-to-be: “Me and you a temporary debut.” “Some Creole boys were lying dead.” “I used his blood to paint my costume.” “You will make love to me tonight.” “It will be understood that I am bad.” “For every day is Judgment Day to me.” It’s all meant in jest, surely. Or maybe not. For like a skilled front man, Pierce keeps us guessing his next move. It draws us in deep.
True to its title, “Black Train” trundles on, as Graham’s drums begin. Ritter’s bass was always the least-prominent instrument on this rather primitive recording, and the reissue while it sharpens the soundstage and allows Pierce’s voice a better place at the centre, apart from the music, doesn’t sufficiently boost the lower registers here. The record usually feels tinny, if as a lo-fi homage to past masters.
The bass pops up more amidst the swampy feel and grinding, bayou critter percussion from Graham, echoing in the quieter “Cool Drink of Water”. It sounds the most improved, sonically, on this reissue. This covers another Johnson, Tommy, in the most languid track. “I wanted water / she gave me gasoline”, is quite a couplet, too. It does take its time, as a blues song may, but it’s a needed respite.
“Goodbye Johnny” closes with a farewell, gliding away on slide guitars again. They alternate with slashing ones, and Ritter’s bass rumbles along. It serves as a fitting reminder of both a sawed-off, hard-bitten punk sensibility and a bluesy, drawn-out compulsion to sink deeper into cloudy depths.


Chant Of The Ever Circling

Skeletal Family's first album Burning Oil is a sort of generic offering from the heyday of early- to mid- '80s British Goth rock. It's not as unrelentingly doomy as the starkest and most uncompromising stuff in the genre and not as accessible to the pop audience as Goth kingpins the Cure and Siouxsie And The Banshees. If you're the kind of listener that's easily annoyed by 1980s Goth-post-punk singers that tend to yelp at the end of their phrases, stay away, since lead singer Anne Marie Hurst boasts one of the most exaggerated vocal tics of that kind. Other trademarks of the style (as much post-punk as avowedly Goth) are here: hurricane-like drumming, creepy echoing guitar lines, and lyrics that milk foreboding out of every situation and observation. The 2001 CD reissue on Anagram adds three early single bonus tracks. One of those, "The Night," actually has the most memorable melody of any song on the disc.

One of the leading bands on the early post-punk/Goth scene, the Skelies formed out of an X Ray Spex influenced outfit the Elements and actually came together under the Skeletal Family name (taken from the “Diamond Dogs” elpee track) when the nascent Goth scene was coalescing in late 1982. They first made their mark with the single “Trees” on their own Luggage label in ‘83 and after that were quickly signed to the York based fledgling indie label Red Rhino, releasing their second single “The Night” later that year.
As part of the mid-80s Leeds Goth scene alongside The Sisters Of Mercy and The March Violets, Skeletal Family’s ’84 debut album Burning Oil was a huge indie hit, reaching number one on the indie charts and staying in the top ten for several months.
It’s clear to see the sound the Skelies began with was heavily reliant on the first two Banshees albums, though there were a few other influences to broaden things out a little. For instance, lead singer Anne Marie Hurst occasionally let loose oddball squawks a bit like Lene Lovich (who she was a fan of) and “Ritual” has a chugging Wilko Johnson style guitar underneath the pan-stick trappings. All things taken into consideration, “Burning Oil” isn’t a bad record at all, given the timeframe. There’s a bit too much flat sounding bass which will always sum up the sound of early Goth, but when the band fly on the faster numbers you don’t really notice it too much.


Euroman Obscurity

Imagine, you're the bass player in one of the happening punk bands of 1978, and on the strength of that success, you persuade the record company to let you make an electronic solo concept album, with the theme of a politically united Europe.
Sound feasible? Well, I guess it helped that he was British born of French parents, homeless, living in the studio during the Black And White recording sessions and in The Stranglers, but even so...

Predictably, it fell through the cracks into obscurity.

A favourite album of mine is one that you may not have heard of, Stranglers bassist J.J. Burnel’s 1979 solo project ‘Euroman Cometh’. I originally bought it way back when because I was a big fan of the band and wanted to own everything that J.J.  and the other band members put out. At the time I remember being somewhat non-plussed by this album. It was, of course, bass heavy but also political in a way that I couldn’t follow and other worldly; and as a teenager at the time I just didn’t appreciate it. In the intervening years, however, I have come to appreciate that album more and more for its genre defying avant-garde approach even though I can’t agree with the political; it was an album out of time…and has remained somewhat ignored and obscure.

Musically, it was an attempt at incorporating electronic sounds into rock. Lyrically, it evolved around the idea of United States of Europe, in the Cold war context. "A Europe riddled with American values and soviet subversion is a diseased sycophantic old whore: a Europe strong, united and independent is a child of the future." stated J.J. Burnel in the inner sleeve. Opening with a list of people he's descended from (Charlemagne, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler (?!?)) voiced over a synthetic drone, it goes on to paint a future vision of a European nation state that stands independently from the U.S. and Russia.
It was merely a dream at the time, but drenched in intuitive foresight, and leaving aside the Nostradamus element (from a guy who was probably smarting at the U.K's patronising myopic view of his homeland), it actually sounds like the future too.
Printed on the sleeve is a tribute to the Meriden Motorcycle Co-operative that manufactured Triumph motorcycles from 1976-83. The tribute reads, "The Triumph Workers Co-operative at Meriden have proved that personally motivated enterprise coupled with group interest is a necessary ingredient in successful socialism and the sham they call national socialism could only be suggested and perpetrated by enemies of the people." Burnel's 750cc Triumph Bonneville T140, manufactured by the Meriden Co-operative, revs its engine during the track "Triumph (Of the Good City)"
Dirty synths and even dirtier basslines (naturally), rumble and twitch, pummelling a trough of post-punk electro-clash almost 30 years too soon.

Yeah, 1979 was a hell of a year...



Strange to think that back in 1982, the bands in the scene that would later become known as 'Goth' were primarily fronted by shrill-voiced singers, playing spiky, up-tempo glam-punk tracks. The Sisters of Mercy are the ones responsible for the popularisation of the doomy synth n' deep voice combo, but I'll be damned if The Danse Society didn't create the sound for them to run away with. Even Eldritch was trying to pass of as a boisterous Bowie when this record was released. What kept this bunch in with the white-face n' cape crowd must have been keeping those deep, groovy post-punk basslines, and the almost tribal stuttering Sex Gang drum patterns. Steve Rawlings' almost emotionless baritone and the (marvellously named) Lyndon Scarfe's experimental synth tones set them apart. Ok, so the sound could be bordering on the po-faced at times, one can only presume the 'eerie' introduction to "Ambition" was written with the idea of trying to score a cheesy 80’s horror flick, but when they hit a groove, Goddamn, they were awesome.

Their star only burned briefly, but it burnt a scorching shadow, all the way from London to Leeds.

If all you’ve ever heard from The Danse Society was their excellent 1985 single “Say It Again,” congratulations! You and I have nothing in common.

It must be said that none of these songs sound anything like “Say It Again” so if you’re hoping for more of the same, Seduction: The Society Collection is not the album for you. However, if you’re looking for some insight into where The Danse Society came from, you’ve come to the right place. Seduction: The Society Collection is a compilation of the band’s 1982 album of the same name plus several early singles (1980 – 83), all originally released on their own independent imprint Society Records.
The songs on this album show off what made The Danse Society so unique: Tim Wright’s exquisitely heavy bass; Paul Gilmartin’s rapid-fire drumming; Paul Nash’s piercing, moody guitar; Lyndon Scarfe’s creepy keyboards; and Steve Rawling’s flat, almost sardonic vocals. While every song is great, my least favorites are the somewhat grating “We’re So Happy” with its draggy verses and the catchy but terribly corny “My Heart.” Yet the best songs on Seduction: The Society Collection are enjoyable enough to counteract the weakest tracks. “Woman’s Own” features a wonderfully creepy synth line and chanted vocals, while the Siouxsie and the Banshees-style bass line in “Belief” is outstanding, as are the clever, biting lyrics. Stark piano opens “In Heaven (Everything Is Fine)” and gives way to reverby guitar, occasional drumbeats, and quiet, sparse vocals, all of which coalesce into something akin to a longer, more emotive version of Bauhaus’s “Who Killed Mr. Moonlight?” “Somewhere” brings together all of the best elements of The Danse Society’s style and includes a lovely, haunting melody.