Record Review: Kissing The Pink – What Noise DLX RM

Cherry Red ‎| UK | CD | 2018 | WCDMRED 723

Kissing The Pink: What Noise DLX RM UK CD [2018]

  1. The Other Side Of Heaven
  2. Captain Zero
  3. Victory Parade
  4. Greenham
  5. Each Day In Nine
  6. The Rain It Never Stops
  7. Radio On
  8. Martin
  9. Watching The Tears
  10. Footsteps
  11. Love & Money
  12. What Noise
  13. The Other Side Of Heaven (7″ Remix)
  14. Radio On (12″ Version)
  15. How Can I Live
  16. Katherine Clarke
  17. The Other Side Of Heaven (12″ Version)
  18. Celestial
  19. What Noise (Longer Version)

I’ve had the 12″ singles from this album since 2001, but the LP has been nothing that I could source by mail order from the USA. I can’t afford to drop international postage for a record unless it is something that is at the top of my want list, so this has been needling me for almost 20 years. Thankfully, our friends at Cherry red have dome the albums right as a perfect DLX RM CD, and my friend Mr. Ware sagely examined this blog before choosing birthday presents for me this year. If anyone would want to buy me a gift, all they have to do is search the “Want List” category and cross reference the “Music Purchases” tab on this blog. It couldn’t be much easier than that. Well… it could. I could have a “Buy Me This” tab [with helpful links] but that would be déclassé.

I first heard the band on their third album period of club/house dance tracks – “Certain Things Are Likely.” But they were really great dance tracks? I’m not the biggest fan of late 80s house music, but these tracks popped! I bought the CD in ’86 and all of the 12″ vinyl from the period. <FLASH FORWARD 18 YEARS> It was on my last trip to Toronto in 2001, that I hit stores there for vinyl as well as CDs [finally] and found the two 12″ singles from this album. I had never played them yet, but in 2004 I knuckled down and bought the US DLX RM of “Naked” the debut Kissing The Pink album. Sacre Bleu! What a brilliant album of technopop that was! It steeled my resolve to track down a copy of  “What Noise” on LP…except for that I never did. It would always cost me $30-40 after shipping. Now I own it and what’s it like?

“The Other Side Of Heaven” set the pace for the vibe of this surprising album. It served up lots of massively chorused vocals. There are almost no intimate vocals on this album. Everything is in fortissimo here. The arrangement of the track is appealingly left field but with enough of a hooky pop sensibility to form bonds with my brain. The band had obviously gotten a sampling keyboard by this time [1984] and they were using it in atypical, startling ways that sidestepped cliché. They seemed to have seen sampling as a path to an almost psychedelic sensibility.

The bold theatrical vocals of “Captain Zero” like most of the songs here, have the voices at the core of the arrangement. The music that was applied around the voices seems to be pop dance in style until you examine it closely, and then it all runs off before you can apply a magnifying glass to it. Any five seconds of this song is like nothing else happening out there in the world of 1984. By the time of “Victory Parade,” the listener may be thinking they had never heard music a chaotic as this before.

Then the acoustic jazz of “Greenham” pops up and I find that any bearings I had for this album have been lost in the fog. The song was a look at the women of the Greenham Common anti-nuclear protest and it eventually came around to form a suitably anthemic and rousing noise. This one certainly reflected the anarcho-political leanings of the members at the time and fortunately, though this song was written just three years into the 19 year protest campaign, the ladies reached their objective.

“Each Day In Nine” was a haunting cocktail of fretless bass, sax, beatbox, droning synths, and uneasy crooning. I could hear DNA from “The Rain It Never Stops” that made it to the wonderful “One Step” on the subsequent album, but here it was a sampledelic blend of afro psychedelic jazz piled thickly onto the master tape. Did I say that this sounded like nothing in 1984? It sounds like nothing else period.

The other single “Radio On” again heightened the layers of samples used to ridiculous psychedelic levels. It almost threatened to fly apart on its own levels of audacious complexity. This was a band using sampling for its jarring distancing effects; not to grab hooks from infinitely better records that had come prior. The almost random jabs of hooks embedded in the song come close to taking to into late period JAPAN territory [rhythmically] as if they were trying to write a club track and had failed. I can imagine Magnet Records execs having a cat when they heard this one. Yet it became a single, against all odds.

The echo-drenched technopop of “Watching The Tears” referenced paisley era chamber pop that reminds me of something else that I just can’t put my finger on right now… but it will come to me eventually, I’m sure. I can’t shake the notion that this might have been one of the closest things to single material on this quixotic album. It’s still intriguingly odd, however. The pop present in this album seems to have been run through a drug-drenched dub sensibility.

The last three tracks on the album sound like anxiety attacks rendered into musical form. The free wheeling sax was at odds with the tremulous vocal, but that was nothing next to the psychotic “Love + Money” is like being inside the head of a mentally ill person. It’s hard to believe that a track like this one ever got out as anything but a B-side. It’s a man’s ID ranting about his desire for love and money, distortedly, over a tribal beat, with massed, chanted chorus vocals. Phew! The merely disjointed and chaotic title track came as a relief in comparison.

Being from 1984, the 12″ versions and remixes were not dramatically different from the LP mixes, but “Celestial” bears mentioning as a radical, almost a cappella version of “The Other Side of heaven” as sung by, you guessed it, massed choral vocals. The African beat and dreamy soprano sax on “How Can I Live” was the only song here as sung by their female member, Josephine Wells. “Catherine Clark” resembled Monty Python’s version of Gumby Punk Rock! All guitars bass and drums for this normally besotted with technology band.


This one was a strange one. Not as breathlessly magnificent as the debut nor as sleek and club ready as the third album. But it was deeply unique. As I stated up front, I’ve never heard an album as queer as this one was, and kudos to the band for getting a sampler and doing weird things with it instead of following the pack. It’s like listening to early Shriekback B-sides with all of the commercial points of references [if they had them to begin with] stripped from the tracks with the whole thing run through an emulator. I really must get the rest of this band’s output! Their 1994 “Sugarland” album was in fact named for the Texas city and I’m sure there’s a fascinating story behind that one.

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Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song Of The Day: The Specials – Ghost Town

Chrysalis ‎| US | 12″ | 1981 | CDS 2525

The Specials: Ghost Town US 12″ [1981]

  1. Ghost Town [extended version]
  2. Why? [extended version]
  3. Friday Night Saturday Morning

“Ghost Town” was a non-LP single by The Specials that made a really big impact in 1981. The song was inspired by the recessional malaise afflicting Britain as the 70s became the 80s as well as events like the beating that Lynval Golding had received the previous year from racist scum. The latter event was directly addressed in the B-side, “Why?” but it probably colored Jerry Dammer’s succinct but dark snapshot of British society ca. 1981. That the single arrived as the country had erupted in a wave of race riots was down to it having it’s finger right on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

The song was more of a venture into reggae than the upbeat ska sound that the band was known for. The track opened with the sound of desolation [was that a siren in the distance through the howling winds?] as Dammers’ rising organ crescendo served as an establishing shot of Britain at an impasse. The serpentine flute weaving through the skank was a last-minute addition to the song, but thankfully, Dammers had the idea to add it, even though all eight tracks on the master were gone by that time. It pulls the listener into the foreboding environment brilliantly.

Then the malevolent swagger of the horn section hit with great impact. It sounded like a minor key Bond theme with John Barry going bluebeat. Interestingly, the lead vocals here were from Neville Staples with nominal lead vocalist Terry Hall only offering a line in the verses with him taking full lead strictly on the middle eight over the sound of conspicuous jollity from the past that was absolutely missing everywhere else in the song.

Jerry Dammers sought out a different producer who normally worked in reggae for this song, which he had been planning for long months before the rapidly disintegrating band managed to record it in producer John Collins’ small 8-track studio. Collins normally cut reggae sides and he recorded this song in much the same way. Eight tracks in mono run through a stereo reverb for effect. When Dammers got the inspiration for the flute, it had to be overdubbed on a track with the brass already recorded. And the brass section had already left by that point. Needless, to say, it was white-knuckle time in the recording booth as this went down. One slip up and the brass track would have been ruined. I’d like to think that this further tension added to the vibe of the song.

What with the band flying apart and the sentiments of the song reflecting their environment so acutely, I cannot imagine it not being the impactful song that it clearly was. The Specials would splinter as the song was lodged in the number one spot on the British charts with Hall, Staples, and Golding leaving to form The Fun Boy Three, but not before this classic was released by the band. If you’ve never heard it… then by all means hit play!

I remember wanting the US 12″ of this song since it came out but I can’t say I’ve ever seen it in the bins. Not even the UK version. My copy of this song comes from the immaculate compilation of 2Tone singles “The 2Tone Collection – A Checkered Past” as compiled by Vinny Vero during his “tearing it up” years at EMI when he first came to my attention. This 2xCD contained every 2Tone A-side released by the Chrysalis imprint. It more than works for me thought I would not say “no” if I ran across the extended 12″ of this one!

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Posted in Ska, SOTD | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Want List: DEVO’s Late In Game Peak Given DLX RM Treatment

Futurismo | UK | 2x CD DLX RM | 2018 | Futurismo no 29

DEVO: Total DEVO DLX RM 2xCD UK [2018]

Disc 1

  1. Baby Doll
  2. Disco Dancer
  3. Some Things Never Change
  4. Plain Truth
  5. Happy Guy
  6. Don’t Be Cruel
  7. The Shadow
  8. I’d Cry If You Died
  9. Agitated
  10. Man Turned Inside Out
  11. Sexi Luv
  12. Blow Up

    Disc 2

  13. Baby Doll (Single Mix)
  14. Baby Doll (Extended Mix)
  15. Baby Doll (Dub Mix)
  16. Disco Dancer (12 Inch Version)
  17. Disco Dancer (Bonus Beats)
  18. Disco Dancer (Karaoke Version)
  19. Some Things Never Change (Cassette Version)
  20. Agitated (Hyperextended Mix)
  21. Agitated (Demo)
  22. Money Pit (Pre-Baby Doll)
  23. Sexi Luv (Demo)
  24. Untitled Instrumental Sketch
  25. Misfits Of Science
  26. Wedding March

I was slightly late to the ball when DEVreleased their “Total DEV” album in 1988. I did not buy it immediately, due to the pall still cast four years earlier by “Shout.” I had seen the “Disco Dancer” clip on 120 Minutes and was not convinced. Also, their drummer Alan Meyers had jumped ship following “Shout” and was replaced by David [Sparks] Kendrick. Truth be told, it hurt seeing DEVsent back to the rookie leagues of an indie like Enigma Records with a low budget for their all important video. Not as much as it hurt the band since unbeknownst to them, Enigma was a sinking ship still barely aloft on ill gotten gains from their Metal Blade distribution.

I didn’t buy a copy of “Total DEV” until a year or two later, and [most importantly] missing a DEVshow touring behind the album the one time I could have seen them in Orlando at Visage nightclub! When I heard how good the album was, I then regretted my decision to blow that tour off. It’s not as if “Total DEV” was the next “Duty Now For the Future,” but at least to these ears, it sounded like the next “New Traditionalists.” I liked the tunes and the arrangements had more guitar that I had gotten from “Oh No! It’s DEV!” or what I’d heard at that time of “Shout.” Mark Mothersbaugh may have wanted to clear all guitar out of the band, but as far as I was concerned, it was an over reliance on synthesizers that had blanded their sound down in ’82/’84. This sounded more interesting to me.

I bought the CD singles and there it’s been until this year when the DEVmailing list announced the 30th Anniversary DLX RM of “Total DEV” in what looks to be a fairly authoritative 2xCD edition. Of course, It’s also available in multiple shades of colored vinyl for those who have to have everything. Homey don’t play dat! I wonder how authoritative it is? Let’s find out!

Enigma Records | US | CD | 1988 | 3303-2

DEV: Total DEVUS CD [1988]

  1. Baby Doll
  2. Disco Dancer
  3. Some Things Never Change
  4. Plain Truth
  5. Happy Guy
  6. Don’t Be Cruel
  7. The Shadow
  8. I’d Cry If You Died
  9. Agitated
  10. Man Turned Inside Out
  11. Sexi Luv
  12. Blow Up
  13. Some Things Never Change [cassette version]

The original CD had a bonus track, an alternate version of “Some Things Never Change.” That’s there, so “check!”

Enigma Records | US | CD-3 | 1988 | 7 75511-3

DEV: Disco Dancer US CD-3 [1988]

  1. Disco Dancer [7 inch version]
  2. Disco Dancer [12 inch version]
  3. Disco Dancer [bonus beats]
  4. Disco Dancer [karaoke version]

Okay, so the first chink in their armor is showing. The 7″ version of “Disco Dancer” is not there. Not fatal, but there’s all of that space at the end of  disc one. Myself, I’d rather have the original album on a disc jammed full of everything rather than lose cuts that should be there due to the idea of protecting the “integrity” of the original album!

Enigma Records | US | CD5 | 1988 | 7 75515-2

DEV: Baby Doll US CD5 [1988]

  1. Baby Doll (Single Mix)
  2. Baby Doll (Extended Mix)
  3. Baby Doll (Instrumental Single Mix)
  4. Baby Doll (Percapella)
  5. Baby Doll (Devo Single Mix)
  6. Agitated (Hyperextended Mix)

Hmm, A hefty three tracks missing from the package here. Instrumental, percapella [has anyone ever actually cared about one of those?], and DEVsingle mixes are missing. Interestingly enough, there is a 6:05 “dub mix” on the DLX RM not on that CD5 and it’s definitely not the 3:40 percapella mix, but I dug and found it here:

Enigma Records | USP | CD5 | 1988 | EPRO-140

 

DEV: Baby Doll US Promo CD5 [1988]

  1. Baby Doll
  2. Baby Doll [extended mix]
  3. Baby Doll [dub mix]
  4. Baby Doll [percapella]

Darth Vader sez’ “…most impressive.” That showed attention to detail. Especially since that disc is going for a strong two figures on Discogs right now. I’ve never heard this cut.

Enigma Records  | US | CASS | 1988 |  7 75029-4

DEV: Baby Doll US cassette single [1988]

  1. Baby Doll (Single Mix)
  2. Baby Doll (Extended Mix)
  3. Baby Doll (Devo Single Mix)
  4. Baby Doll (Instrumental Mix)
  5. Don’t Be Cruel

Let we forget, there was another popular format in 1988. The cassette single had an instrumental version of “Baby Doll,” and as we strive for Monastic perfection, we call out its absence! And off the top of my head, I remembered one more rarity that was definitely missing here!

Island Records ‎| US | CD | 1988 | 422-842 890-2

Various: Tapeheads OST US CD [1988]

  1. Swanky Modes: Ordinary Man
  2. King Cotton: Roscoe’s Rap
  3. Bo Diddley: Surfer’s Love Chant
  4. Swanky Modes: You Hooked Me Baby
  5. Swanky Modes: Betcher Bottom Dollar
  6. DEV: Baby Doll (Sung In Swedish)
  7. Fishbone: Slow Bus A-Movin’ (Howard’s Beach Party)
  8. Swanky Modes: Audience For My Pain
  9. Swanky Modes: Language Of Love
  10. Swanky Modes: Ordinary Man (Can’t Keep A Good Man Down Mix)

Fans of the cult film “Tapeheads” will know what I’m talking about! One of the more amusing gags was having a Swedish version of “Baby Doll” by DEVinserted into the movie to have a [deserved] good laugh at Eurokase Synthpop. I really miss this track.


Oooh! Spot the spot varnish!

So spuds who are interested in this DLX RM will, like me, be buying it for the hefty five unreleased bonus tracks in lieu of the missing mixes. The 2xCD has my name on it, and the new cover design with the alternate photo is a big step up, in my opinion. The CD, as does the LP version, comes in a gatefold cover enhanced with spot varnish, so obviously, no expense was spared! There is also a poster [folded pretty small in the CD, admittedly], and some postcards thrown in. The official store at ClubDEVO.com is sold out of all versions, but the Futurismo site still has the all important CD for £17.99 [a.k.a. $23.23] here. Act fast or…you know how it goes in these dark days.

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Posted in Core Collection, Want List | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Record Review: Gang Of Four – Songs Of The Free DLX RM

Infinite Zero ‎| US | CD | 1996 | 9 43067-2

Gang Of Four: Songs Of The Free DLX RM US CD [1996]

  1. Call Me Up
  2. I Love A Man In A Uniform
  3. We Live As We Dream, Alone
  4. It Is Not Enough
  5. Life! It’s A Shame
  6. I Will Be A Good Boy
  7. The History of the World
  8. Muscle For Brains
  9. Of The Instant
  10. The World At Fault
  11. I Love A Man In Uniform [Dub]

When Dave Allen left Gang Of Four for the less sunny climes of Shriekback, many wondered how the mothership was going to fare. By the evidence of this album, it had every reason to expect continued growth and possibly greater success. The third Gang of Four album featured new recruit Sara Lee [ex-League Of Gentlemen] adding the jagged and brusque bass ganks we had come to know and love by that time. The biggest change was in bringing in co-producer Mike Howlett to add some commercial potential to the mix.

“Call Me Up” assured listeners that they could still depend of Gang Of Four for a Post-Punk funk shot full Marxist theory. Andy Gill’s howling metallic guitar still sounded like a wounded beast but the drum track sounded like explosions on the dancefloor. The vocals of Jon King were still high and strident; offset occasionally by the deep undertow of Andy Gill’s contrapuntal vocal harmonies. It almost gelled as dance music but was fundamentally too left field to be accused of pandering.

The first single, “I Love A Man In A Uniform,” was the furthest thing from pandering, coming as it did on the heels of the Falklands War which undoubtedly saw its message banned from the restrictive BBC  wartime playlists of the time. The lyric relentlessly mocked militarism, patriarchal roles, and rugged individualism over a beat of drums so gated that they sounded like gunfire; appropriate, in this context. For a change. It was a lurching, tech funk monster that actually reached the Top 30 on the Billboard dance charts. Joy Yates backing vocals added deeply ironic soul to this number.

The tightly coiled funk riffing of Gill coupled with the booming backbeat of Hugo Burnham’s drums would seem to leave little room for vocalizing. For once, the metallic shriek of Gill’s guitar met its match in the ragged vocals of King, who dominated the cut by vacillating between falsetto singing and going into the red with his performance. As the song ended, all of the other instruments dropped out of the mix, leaving King alone to finish singing the chorus at full volume.

After that moment of maximum impact, the album delivered its masterstroke with the subtle polyrhythms of “Life! It’s A Shame.” Burnham’s drums kept a steady, droning rhythm abetted by interjected bass gank’s from Sara Lee. Burnham’s fills in doubletime were building a massive patina of complexity to it all. With Gill adding his bass contrapuntal vocals and some torn metal guitar over the top reaches a kind of Post-Punk nirvana here. The whole track had a clockwork balance that was a n example of perfection in arranging in dense layers of sound with every element in perfect alignment with the other factors in the mix.

“I Will Be A Good Boy” had a strong dub reggae vibe with a loose, airy mix with King playing melodica; always a sign of Agustus Pablo influence. King and Gill shared the vocals on this one with Gill dominant for once. The album proper ended with the subtle foreboding of “Of The Instant,” which crept through the night, keeping hidden in the shadows as it asked “who owns what you do – who owns what you use?” The normally slamming rhythms of Burnham were nowhere to be found this time.

The bonus tracks were the “Uniform” UK B-side “The World At Fault” with the US dub mix of “I Love A Man In A Uniform.” The former was a slow tempo funk burner with another anguished King vocal giving it his all. The latter was a true dub mix of the single with dubbed out vocals and a maximal approach to reconstructing the track; now filled with clattering beatbox that sounded like military drums.

The brief album [45 minutes with two bonus tracks] took great strides in assigning a smoothness to what was a fundamentally rough and even harsh band. The big beat drums were employed here to round off some of their sharper edges, while the complexity of the arrangements kept it all from going down too easily. If Mike Howlett was the guy who could take OMD into the Top 20 and jump start their career, I can see the thought in getting him to add his production savvy to the GO4 mix. The album listens very well and invited replay once it was over. I now have two of the first three “classic” Gang of Four albums. I need to get “Entertainment!” and would be willing to give “Hard” a listen before perhaps venturing further afield.

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Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Record Review: Molly Nilsson – History

Dark Skies Association | GER | CD-R | 2011 | DSA009

Molly Nilsson: History GER CD-R [2011]

  1. In Real Life
  2. You Always Hurt The One You Love
  3. I Hope You Die
  4. The Bottles Of Tomorrow
  5. Hiroshima Street
  6. Intermezzo: The Party
  7. Hotel Home
  8. City Of Atlantis
  9. Qwerty (Censored Version)
  10. The Clocks
  11. Skybound

Yesterday I found myself thinking about Molly Nilsson and that led directly to my blogging topic today. Just to state the not always obvious, I don’t write this thing in advance. There is no lead time, so I almost always write on the day of publication. I saw two shows by Molly Nilsson in the town where I live in 2012, and 2013. They were delightful concerts, in association with Alligator Indian, my favorite local act [long since absconded back to their point of origin…Central Florida]. I bought Molly’s latest CDs from the merch table and this one was just a CD-R that she might have burned on the road as needed. The artwork was stark black + white art had been printed on a laser printer and the CD-R was rubber stamped with the title. The one note of color was a red fingerprint on the back of the case insert on the number of my copy: 466.

Ms. Nilsson instantly won me over with her sonorous contralto; sounding like Nico fronting Enya. The cavernous reverb of her music production suited her vocals to perfection. She favors piano, drum machine, and often orchestral synth pads adding pizzicato chordal bursts to the music. All of which sounded like it was recorded from a concrete bunker in the next building. Really, the only music I have ever heard quite like this is Enya’s “Watermark” album, but this is far more introverted and low key for all of its bravado. Where she definitely leaves Enya scrambling in the dust is with her infinitely better lyrics.

“In Real Life” kicked off the album and immediately the scent of French Chanson wafted out of the speakers. Ms. Nilsson is Swedish, but she’s still connecting to a larger sense of Europe with her melancholy melodies. Speaking of melancholy, the next song was a cover of the chestnut “You Always Hurt The One You Love” but all she left was the lyric. She had completely re-configured the music to a new, and exciting minor key standard.

The takeaway classic here was the impossibly romantic “I Hope You Die.” The deceptive title was undercut by the full lyric which was a full inversion of the sentiment. The final verse is below. It’s simply incredible.

“Baby you’re the coolest moon when the night’s begun
And I’m a goth in the sun
And you can sleep through the summer days
I know you think I’m morbid when I say

I hope you die by my side
The two of us at the exact same time” – “I Hope You Die”

The tender ache of “Hiroshima Street” employs a vivid high key metaphor for a breakup song. Showing perhaps the emotional fortissimo that lay beneath the surface of Ms. Nilsson’s poised and elegant music. The formalism of her compositions and vocals sometimes belie the direct power of her lyrics; which lay beneath the surface. Waiting to be discovered. I truly love the winsome “Hotel Home” which functions as some sort of theme song for the peripatetic singer. It’s a heartwarming song of travel and solitude that celebrates her rootlessness.

The songs here sometimes remind me of The Cocteau Twins in that they can have big drum machine beats, yet are the furthest thing from dance fodder. With the exception of “City Of Atlantis, “ that is. The tempo there was actually fast and lively with the vibe coming down close to the widescreen sort of Ennio Morricone feel of OMD’s “Heaven Is” only with much, much better lyrics. The singalong chorus of “let them chant this, in the city of atlantis” is worthy of some sort of prize, by my reckoning.

Ms. Nilsson’s insular, yet vibrant music is paradoxical. It stand off by itself and demurely invites closer inspection. When one does, the rewards are plentiful. I only have this album and its follow up, “The Travels.” See, I told you she was peripatetic. I really need to get the three albums that have followed this one. Reviews that I have read have gotten a rapturous critical response but I’ve never seen anything by her in a store, so i guess I will have to hunker down and mail order something before I can’t afford it. Goodness knows that this album on CD-R is now on its way to three figures and far outside of my budget.

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Record Review: Underworld + Iggy Pop – Teatime Dub Encounters

Caroline International ‎| US | CD | 2018 | 2567742777

Underworld + Iggy Pop: Teatime Dub Encounters

  1. Bells + Circles
  2. Trapped
  3. I’ll See Big
  4. Get Your Shirt

Will wonders ever cease? When I had reviewed “Post Pop Depression” not two months ago, talk in the comments drifted to this EP and I’ve already owned it for over a month. When I saw it in the bins of Wax N’ Facts on my last trip there, it was a no-brainer. I’d finally begun to venture into the modern era of Underworld in the last couple of years, but anything Iggy Pop did I have an interest in hearing. Particularly when he’s so far out of his comfort zone through collaborating with the 800 lb. gorillas of stadium electronica.

Spot the Iggy

Being familiar with the Underworld M.O., I had expected longish expanses of techno dub sound punctuated by the joker in the deck; Iggy Pop. “Bells + Circles” dished out exactly that, but what I could not have expected was how amusing and even cogent Iggy was in that context. The cut began with a widescreen slab of a drumloop unfolding like a flower emerging from the soil and into the sunlight as the EQ carried the sound from muddy to vibrant. Iggy soon made his presence felt as he hijacked the track to take him far from its predetermined destination.

Listening to him free associate from tales of air travel’s golden age in the 70s to the finer points of picking up stewardesses, he seized upon the freedom to smoke on an airplane in that bygone era to underscore how restrictive everything feels to him these days. When he concludes the tracks by proclaiming that “it’s over for the liberal democracies” and even “there will be no revolution… and that’s why it won’t be televised,” he’d just turned the neat trick of making the personal political.

“Trapped” stuttered repetitively like a vintage Suicide track with a spy theme urgency as Iggy gave a glimpse inside as he decried the restrictions of domesticity via the idea of a mortgage posited as an anathema to his freewheeling ways. Tellingly, he actually says “there goes the little boy inside.” I would imagine that the little boy is still pulling all of the levers inside Iggy.

The tempos lapsed for the ambient and sunny vibe of “I’ll See Big” as Iggy ruminated shaggily on the nature of the friendships in his life over a calm and meditative music bed. He recounted the gist of his relationship with The Stooges and obliquely referred to the demanding nature of his friendship with David Bowie. And finally, “Get Your Shirt” was an actual case of Iggy singing here instead of providing the voice overs for Smith and Hyde to cut rhythmically into the tracks. The glamrok stomp found pop examining his shirt, or lack thereof, as the most direct sort of metaphor imaginable. Iggy was joined here by Esme Brownyn-Smith; Rick’s daughter who has her sights on being a soprano once she finishes her post-Baccalaureate vocal studies. Her mellifluous trilling provided delightful contrast with the lived in leather that Pop provided vocally. Her singing was a delight throughout the EP, actually.

The EP came to fruition when Underworld and Pop were in England working on the soundtrack to T2 Trainspotting. Iggy offered to meet up at his hotel and Smith booked his own room at The Savoy and built a studio there as he was determined to mix it up with Pop musically. Can you blame him? Thought put on the spot, Pop has instinctually been making records for nearly 50 years, so of course he went with it. The resulting EP was a perfectly named collaboration that hit a sweet spot at 27:30 in length. Enough to quench a thirst you didn’t know you had and yet sufficient to keep you coming back for more.

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Posted in Record Review | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Seminal Single: Heaven 17 – [We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang

Virgin ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | VS 400-12

Heaven 17/B.E.F. – [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Heaven 17: [We Don’t Need this] Fascist Groove Thang + B.E.F. Ident
  2. B.E.F.: Decline Of The West

This single hit with all the force of the multi-megaton bombs were were all expecting to drop at any time in the early 80s. It began with a clattering, amphetamine glamrock stomp at high BPMs and and a synth lead that leapt up octaves until it was at the requisite frantic energy level to start the rhythmic chant that let us know we were in for something big.

The hard slamming beat underscored a hard slamming lyric that left nothing to the imagination. For once, a band was being completely blunt and telling it like it was.

This single sounded like truth being dispensed to exactly the sort of beat that suggested that, this time, if you freed your ass, your mind would follow.

Not only that, but the naming of Ronald Reagan as the “fascist god in motion” was without precedent. Two years earlier, it was considered “edgy” for The Dead Kenendys to have released “California Uber Alles” [ironically, released in the UK on Heaven 17 manager Bob Last’s Fast Product label] but middle class punks whining about Jerry Brown was an extreme case of missing the big picture.

Heaven 17 minced no words here. They set up the target and hit a bullseye. For their efforts, the BBC banned the single but it got as high as 45 in the UK charts, in spite of that.

The game changing aspect of it that cannot be dismissed was not only in its overtly political content. The fact that there was non-electronic instrumentation used on the single for only the second time on a single that Martyn Ware helmed [The Men’s “I Don’t Depend On You” was the first in 1979] indicated that Heaven 17 were thinking far outside of the Human League box this time.

The band thought that the song’s middle eight should feature a funky bass solo – just for ironic effect. After their gales of laughter died down, Glenn Gregory went back to the theater he was working at and asked the tech crew if anyone knew how to play a bass guitar.

John Wilson raised his hand, so they fetched his bass guitar and went to the studio to put something down. He played a solo and after they scraped their jaws off of the floor, he apologized because he was really more of a guitar player, you see.

Wilson also played funky rhythm guitar on the single and his playing became a foundation of the “Pavement” side of the album they would make. Even Ian Craig Marsh got caught up in the fever and played a little saxophone on the track!

The 12″ version of the single was identical to the 7″ except for the “hidden track” added on the 12″ single of the “B.E.F. Ident;” a brief [~35 second] electro-classical interlude that came off as being completely influenced by Wendy Carlos’ soundtrack for “A Clockwork Orange;” the film/book where the band had taken their name.

The single’s A-side was a shot across the bow that the rest of Heaven 17’s career has tried [and failed] to surpass in impact; though they have come close on occasion. As much as I love this band, there’s nothing else in their oeuvre quite like “[We Don’t Need This] Fascist Groove Thang!”

The B-side of the single was a long, 7+ minute instrumental [full length on the 7″ single, too] called “The Decline Of The West.” I have to imagine that the band had been influenced by Oswald Spengler’s provocative hypothesis on the flow of civilizations in history, published during the height of World War I.

It was a brooding instrumental electronic waltz pregnant with decay an almost plaintive despair. Beginning with the drip of water that rose into a crescendo of rain before the distant drumbeats converged into waltz time. Then a metallic shriek rent the sound before dying out. The death scream of a civilization.

The slow, plodding pace with flute like tones taking the topline melody  with the occasional groan of a synth undercutting the soundbed before the countermelody manifested sounded so resolutely melancholy.

The vibe there seemed to posit this track as the dark flipside to a song like OMD’s “Sealand;” [out at the same time] that song itself was already reasonably remorseful and downcast. This one from Heaven 17 took it further.

This one has really gained in poignancy in the intervening 37 years as we’ve seen abject signs that indicate that perhaps the song’s title was more prophetic than we realized at the time. It felt as if a line had certainly been crossed in the new millennium.

As the song faded with a return of the thunderclouds that heralded its start, the white noise rain receded until all that was left was the electronic ping of perhaps the heart/lung machine that was propping this civilization up on its deathbed. The end was unavoidable now.

The single was a classic statement of intent that was unbeatable as a first glimpse of Heaven 17. They would never again hone their vision with such keenness. As we stumble towards the abattoir of history, we can perhaps take solace in the fact that we still have the means for self-salvation.

Today is voting day in America. Any US citizens reading this may have already voted, but if not, then by all means click the Shepard Fairey image below to find out where your local polling location is and please, cast your vote today. We have no room for cynicism. If it was all just a sham, why would they be doing their best to disenfranchise so many voters?

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