Want List: Graeme Thomson Gives Simple Minds Their Due with “Themes For Great Cities: A New History Of Simple Minds” Book

Little, Brown/Constable | ISBN-13: 9781472134004 | 360 pp. | 2022

It was almost two years ago I got wind of a new Simple Minds biography from the pen of Graeme Thomson. I had heard from Ross Stapleton, the Virgin A+R genius who got the band signed for their rightful ascent on the charts, that he’d been interviewed for this book. At the time there was another book also in the works that eventually became “The Heart Of The Crowd” and I sat back waiting to see when this other tome would manifest, and in spite of a global pandemic, that time is now.

As we found out, the “Book Of Brilliant Things” changed focus to become “The Heart of The Crowd” and that was ultimately, a bunch of fans weighing in on their Simple Minds experiences. Involvement with the band itself was extremely minimal for that one, and I was hopeful that Mr. Thomson would be giving us the kind of in-depth, penetrating analysis that we crave in respect to this band. Who’ve had an incredible career with the most productive and astonishing artistic arc in their early career of any band I could name. I’d say only Roxy Music’s achievements were greater, given that they appeared fully formed as though from the head of Zeus. Elvis Costello’s came close.

Mr. Thomson has previously written works on artists as varied as John Martyn, Kate Bush, and Phil Lynott, and he writes for The Guardian, Uncut, and Pitchfork. Word has it that he’s most interested in helping the band to reclaim the glorious achievement that constituted their rise to the top of the charts as it remains a body of work that compels me to revisit it frequently. The band have been more cognizant of this different time when their commercial pull was not yet there. For their arena years, they tended to dismiss this period, but recent years, including their amazing “5×5” tour playing only material from their first seven albums, has shown that they are giving that period the respect that it demands.

I am salivating to see that new perspectives and insights that Mr. Thomson can bring to this most riveting story even after I’ve hacked out over 120,000 words on the band’s career myself in a nearly year-long thread on this blog. The pull is such that I cannot get enough of this portion of the band’s story. But the joy is, that apart from a near-decade in the band’s career following the “Sparkle In The Rain” album that I did not care for, they have been gradually and assertively, re-connecting with the artistic mojo that had carried them through their developmental years to great success. In 2022 I’m equally interested in hearing about Simple Minds’ journey that has taken them from stadiums to wilderness and back again even as their continue to move from strength to strength.

Of course, the band’s principals were all interviewed for this tome. Messrs Kerr, Burchill, MacNeil, and Forbes were consulted and we also know that Ross Stapleton [without whom we might not even know about Simple Minds] will also be present in the pages for the band’s re-birth and rise with Virgin Records. The volume is available in e-book and hardcover for its rightful place in my Record Cell’s library. The book is priced to own at a sensible £20.00 [$27.17] and can be pre-ordered at the button below.

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I can’t wait until I have this one in house to review. I suspect that I will burn through those pages in a weekend. Until then…join us with bated breath for the inevitable review.

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Simple Minds Revisit “Act Of Love” From Their Earliest Days Today

simple minds act of love cover art
The spot-on fanzine style art spoke eloquently of “Act Of Love’s” 1978 origins

Simple Minds: Act Of Love – DL [2022]

  1. Act of Love 4:01

Friday we got a shock from the Simple Minds camp, who’ve been pretty quiet with the Covid Pandemic torpedoing the band’s formerly ceaseless live romp. Their 40 Years Of Hits tour [of 2020] will end up being something else, once it happens. Simple Minds are a band who are defined by their live touring so the impact on them must be significant. I first saw mention of this new single in the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, so I quickly went to simpleminds.com and when I saw the cover art I knew that we were in good hands. Kudos must immediately go out to designer Stuart Crouch for his absolutely spot on vintage fanzine pastiche cover that put two Laurie Evans photos to expert usage in the revisit of “Act of Love.”

“Act Of Love” was significant to the band because it was the first song they ever played live at their debut concert on January 17th, 1978. It was 44 years ago to the day as they opened in Glasgow for Steel Pulse. With that in mind, Charlie Burchill returned to the song a few years ago while on vacation and had gotten some new inspiration. The song was revisited during their 2020, 2021 sessions for the next Simple Minds album but it was released today to commemorate their 44 year long journey and it will be a one-off single and won’t be on the new album. Well…maybe it might be a bonus track on the DLX ED of the new album. You never know these things. So what is it like?

The intro was all roiling synth loops and Jim Kerr’s haunting BVs until the drumbeats kicked in and got this song cruising on the wide lanes of the current Simple Minds sound. Fans of their sound on “Walk Between Worlds” will be glad that the band haven’t taken things in a dubious new direction. This was a sleek modern revisit to the song that was on their withdrawn “Early Years” compilation in a much stodgier 1978 demo recording. Burchill’s guitars were streamlined and ferocious and had none of the Acid Rock hangover that the teenage Charlie employed 44 years ago.

Similarly, Jim Kerr today had none of the Lou Reed mannerisms that he once was happy to revel in and he’s taken the song on as a mature artist. The structure of the verses and the chorus was familiar but all new verses were written and they added a new middle eight to the song that the original lacked. The chorus was pretty much the same but the dense sleek mix [courtesy of mixmaster Alan Moulder] absolutely spoke to the now of Simple Minds. This new version pulsated with an exciting energy that simply wasn’t there on the original. As Jim Kerr put it on the band’s website:

‘When we listened to the original demo, we loved its spirit and its general form, but it sounded like a youth club band song. How could we do that now, adding extra pieces without losing the essence?’

Jim Kerr

While I can enjoy the teenage Simple Minds [more accurately, Johnny + The Self Abusers, all the more likely] having a stab at a Glam Rock version of the Velvet Underground [the electric piano really stuck out] I’m with the new version. What else can I say than after its 4:00 minutes were up, I was already pining for more. I can only hope that Mr. Johnson Somerset gets an opportunity to give the new edition one of his widescreen twelve inch [more like eighteen inch remixes, actually] remixes. “Act Of Love” is out today digitally for streaming and download in the usual places. We’re not done yet with Simple Minds. Join us tomorrow for more.

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 24]

blow monkeys blue-red monktone
Blow Monkeys were reunited and it felt so good…

[…continued from last post]

“We Can Win” could have been a track from “Flatlands” from the sound of it. An acoustic folk number with brushed drums and acoustic guitars. But that was a deceptive simplification. Where it more closely reflected the current was in the caliber of the songwriting. As well as the framing of the song with a Memphis horn hook being the deciding Blow Monkey factor, though Dr. Robert’s reverberant tremolo guitar also made it more than something that would have been recorded on a Dr. Robert solo album.

Far more radical was the lurching Art Rock rondo of “Only Joking.” The obstinate drum pattern owned this song. It was front and center with the bass right in our faces with it. The nagging, dissonant saxes really positioned this one like a throwback to the sound of their “Punk Jazz” roots given an update with all they had learned in the intervening quarter century. The berserk touch of Dub only made it stand out more in sharp relief. And the cold ending where Dr. Robert simply said “stop!” to have the song end on the next measure reminded me of “Under Heavy Manners” and Robert Fripp’s similar command.

After that left field outlier [to nowhere], it was time for something more melodic. “I Dream Of You” began with a more conventionally beautiful beginning with strummed whistles and Neville Henry’s ocarina. Then with the first chorus, it revealed its bifurcated structure with a tempo shift and a tonal shift to major chords and vibrant handclap rhythms.

blow monkeys travelin' soul cover artThe single released from the album was the sprightly acoustic folk of “Travelin’ Soul.” The Fred Neil influence in this song was palpable, but Dr. Robert certainly rose to the occasion. The gentle shaker rhythms and acoustic guitars were great counterpoint to the vocal harmonies here. The cheerful sax of Mr. Henry served, as ever, to put the Blow Monkeys stamp on the song, as did the string arrangement. The later, always a Blow Monkeys defining trait. The CD single here remained the last commercial physical Blow Monkeys single release, with a new B-side version of “The Man From Russia!”

It’s a mark of how exciting that the track “Save Me” was that I had been listening to the album for many years before I noticed that the song was a massive eight minutes long! The widescreen Soul-Funk opus was ripped from the Barry White Love Unlimited Orchestra playbook, with sweeping, cinematic strings and funky handclaps giving its engine room a massive power. The percussion hook was redolent of Andrea True’s “More, More, More.” So the late 70s vibe was extremely strong. Nigel Hopkin’s vintage Moog solo simply added more fuel to that fire.

Dr. Robert’s vocal floated elegantly over the music bed and near the six minute mark, he stopped singing to let his guitar do the talking with an elegant, jazzy solo that really made its mark on the song. then the string re-asserted primacy in the climax of the song dropped out dramatically for seven bars of the piano looping.

 After that tour de force, the album ended on a plaintive note with the intimate folksiness of “When Love’s In Bloom.” The ocarina and acoustic guitars were touched with a little accordion to support Dr. Robert’s most intimate vocal on the album. Ending the eclectic and sprawling album on a gentle note.


In many ways, “Devil’s Tavern” was business as usual for The Blow Monkeys. It was another album [their fourth in a row] where the songs were all stylistically unrelated to each other. In that way, it was not dissimilar [in theory] to the one that had preceded it by 18 years. But that album was the furthest from the band’s modus operandi in its construction. It forswore a string section which had always been a Blow Monkeys staple to venture into world music territory.

“Devil’s Tavern” found the strings back with the band. Three of these songs had acoustic folk roots that would have been at home on a Dr. Robert solo album, but the band had been integrated with them in ways that would not have happened under those circumstances. The album touched on Jazz, Funk, Soul, elegant Disco, and Folk music. The point was that it was all done masterfully.

This was an album that satisfied with no filler, even through the varied stylistic and tonal shifts. The pacing and sequencing was such that the album unfolded in a supremely satisfying arc. With all contributors getting their chance to make it really shine. After an 18 year layoff, the band reconvened and were clearly fighting strong and ready to pick up, not where they left off, but streets ahead. The band returned to the studio even stronger than when they had stepped down. I was immediately impressed with “Devils’ Tavern” on receipt and the intervening 14 years have done nothing but burnish its manifold accomplishments in my mind. My greatest hope was that the band could stay together but how would they manage to better the standard that they set here?

Next: …A Temporary Stopgap Measure

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 23]

The Blow Monkeys

Devil’s Tavern | 2008

4

The best possible way to engage this Monk is to emphasize in-your-face bass playing. What better way to signal the triumphant return of The Blow Monkeys than to give the spotlight to Mr. Mick Anker and his double bass engaging in the purest Cool Jazz that this band had ever committed to disc? While Jazz DNA was all over their debut album, they soon moved outward and into Soul territory.

“The World Can Wait” saw them circling back to Jazz with a vengeance. In a world of electric bass and bass synth, the feel of Anker’s fingers vibrating the strings on the neck of his instrument were as palpable an actual texture as recorded bass playing could ever get! This song never fails to excite me and immediately engage me from the very start! The angular guitar licks Dr. Robert sparingly contributed allowed the rhythm section their time in the limelight.

The slow tempo and melody lurched to and fro in a frisky zig-zag of attitude and sound. Dr. Robert began singing and lingered a half beat behind the rhythm to better pull the listener into the nocturnal environment of the song. Until the chorus.

The chorus turned the neat trick of bringing the house lights up for the showstopper that ois was. One where every note played and sung was held for twice as many beats; elongating the drama without altering the actual tempo. The swells of the string section added to the sense of euphoria to better contrast with the furtive Jazziness of the verse structure. Or the middle eight with hints of Acid Rock in the Doctor’s guitar solo.

And thus the song did lurch forward in a call-and-response fashion until the song’s conclusion where the Jazz in the mix allowed for Neville Henry’s sax to enter into the climax the rest of the instruments veered off into Jazz Space and gave up their syncopation as the song broke down thrillingly. If the Blow Monkeys wanted to reassure this fan that their return was not in vain, then they could have hardly done better than with this stunning album opener!

For their next trick, the band went to a completely different place as they managed to evoke the classic Soul sound of an Al Green single with “I Don’t Mind.” Keys and string man Nigel Hopkins got some classic Hammond organ sound in the song and the saxes of Mr. Henry were straight out of Memphis. This was the sound of the band acing the Soul Test and showing that they could hit the familiar targets of yore with an aim that had only improved in the years apart.

blow monkeys - bullet train label artThe next song [and a promo single] showed that the band were comfortable trying on completely new musical clothes. Krautrock had not been anything that I’d say the band were influenced by but the undeniable mototik beat underlying “The Bullet Train” as well as the urgent rhythmic violin motif insured that this train was only moving ahead. But the congas and the acoustic guitars were the least likely instruments in this one. yet the song managed to keep what were paradoxical energies bound together in flight and sailing smoothly forward.

The tempo shifted radically downward for the jug band psychedelia of “Frontline” with funky acoustic guitars being strummed and slid with fat layers of dreamy sax wafting through the song like afternoon sunlight through trees thick with Spanish moss. The album next dropped an epic ballad with the stunning “A Momentary Fall.” As much as I enjoyed the earlier Blow Monkeys music, the quality of Dr. Robert’s songwriting only got much, much stronger with time under his belt. This is the sort of song that felt like an instant classic. Easily on par with the likes of Fred Neil, Nick Drake and Tim Hardin. And the impassioned singing he brought to the song’s climax was simply stirring; holding his own against the strings and saxes as the song’s coda faded. Leaving only Dr. Robert’s vintage Philicorda electric organ chord sustained to have the last word.

Next: …Not Joking

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Record Review: Stic Basin III

stic basin III cover art
Shriekback | UK | CD-R | 2022

Stic Basin: III – UK – CD-R [2022]

  1. We Don’t Cover The Planes That Land
  2. Locally Unwanted Land Use (LULU)
  3. Moonlamp
  4. Plum 23
  5. It All Turns Out To Be A Dream
  6. Gas Curtain
  7. Whitmer
  8. The Law You Won’t Be Told
  9. Purton Hulk
  10. Frogactualfrog
  11. Heavy Bead

In a shocking move of daring simultaneous maneuvers with the Shriekback mothership, Barry Andrews’ Stic Basin solo electronica project has a third album ready for ears at the exact same time as “1000 Books,” which we talked about yesterday. It was a little over a year ago when the second Stic Basin album manifested, but this new one is a very different affair.

“We Don’t Cover The Planes That Land” was all foreboding drones before the Arabic scale synths and breakbeats fostered a minor key anxiety attack. The approach here was one of kitchen-sing density that would ultimately be abandoned as the album was primarily about exploring anxious states of mind in the most minimal and subtle ways possible.

As “Locally Unwanted Land Use [LULU]” clearly demonstrated. The minimal, almost biological sound of the cut was barely defined as an almost random series of minimal loops created an interference pattern that was so loose that it sounded arrhythmic. “Moonlamp” was naught but a delicate fluttering of heartbreak courtesy of pulse gating over the nested loops.

“Plum 23″‘ was of two minds. Evoking nightbird song of random waves jousting with electric piano loops. The first strongly rhythmic song her since the first was “It All Turns Out To Be A Dream.” Its first half a gentle polyrhythm with an ululating African melody snaking through it. Then it transitioned into something more squelchy and chaotic.

The loops in “Gas Curtain” had an waveform profile that suggested that they might have been played backwards as the electric piano soloed over the top of it. Attempting to ease the mind simultaneously hearing those anxious loops at the core of the song.

“The Law You Won’t Be Told” features expansive, sustained atmospheres undermined by the noise gated loops breaking up the song’s rather strong melodic flow. Leading to a feeling of stasis and paralysis; only changing at the song’s climax as a final burst of energy struggled and finally broke free.

A third song featured a strong rhythm in “Frogactualfrog.” Insect trills propelled this one which almost attained an African kalimba sound that featured the only vocoded vocals discernible within the album. While the album as a whole was a minimal exercise, this one had the feel of a dub. Which is minimalism of a different kind. The dissonant climax spoke to the inevitability of entropy.

The “Heavy Bead” the album concluded with was perhaps one of perspiration. The long, repetitive loops spoke of finality and dread. The point where development slows and then begins backsliding into stasis. With just a tiny dollop of hope for a better day or at least a way of possibly maintaining dignity for a little while longer.

This was quite a different kettle of fish as compared to the Stick Basin II album of just over a year ago. The latter seemed to be a Prog Opus® next to “Stic Basin III!” If anything, it seemed to be a spiritual kindred to the meditation of frailty and acceptance that was “1000 Books.” One where the song structures themselves have decayed not unlike society and nature. But without the lyrical compassion the abstraction here can get downright blood chilling. This one was not the album to play in the wee small hours of the morning when alone. Mr. Andrews himself has described this one in the Shriekback download store as “withered and querulous” and he’s not pulling any punches.

The CD-R is £7.00 in the Shriekback webstore [buy/sample it here] and it comes with a DL [full WAV files] for the disc-free amongst you. Or you can get just the DL for the same price. Your choice. Or there is also a lucre-saving bundle for purchasers of “1000 Books, ” the new Shriekback opus. Both discs for just £16.00 at the button below.

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Shriekback | UK | 3 x CD-R | 2022

Shriekback: 3 NYC Shows ’83-’85 – UK – 3 x CD-R – [2022]

Disc 1: Danceteria 1/27-28?/1983

  1. Building Up A New Home
  2. Big Sharp Teeth
  3. Considerable
  4. Hand On My Heart
  5. Health And Knowledge And Wealth And Power
  6. Feelers
  7. Mothloop
  8. A Kind Of Fascination
  9. White Out
  10. Suck
  11. My Spine [Is The Bassline]

Disc 2: Peppermint Lounge 5/15/1983

  1. Sexthinkone
  2. Sway
  3. Brink of Collapse
  4. Grapes Into Lettuce
  5. Considerable
  6. Mothloop
  7. A Kind Of Fascination
  8. Despite Dense Weed
  9. My Spine [Is The Bassline]
  10. Lined Up

Disc 3: The Ritz 9/19/1985

  1. Malaria
  2. Everything That Rises Must Converge
  3. Fish Below the Ice
  4. Health And Knowledge And Wealth And Power
  5. Faded Flowers
  6. Mothloop
  7. Nemesis
  8. My Spine [Is the Bassline]
  9. White Out
  10. Suck
  11. Lined Up

And because good things come in threes, the third new Shriekback CD to be released last week is itself a triple CD! The NYC sets were originally a pledge perk for the crowdsourcing of the last Shriekback album [now successfully behind them] and now the set is available on CD-R for anyone who wants to hear three bootleg quality [but commensurately spirited] live sets from the city that never sleeps. The three discs will set you back £12.00 but are also in a bundle with the new album “1000 Books” for the bargainous price of £20.00. At the same button below.

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Record Review: Shriekback’s “1000 Books” Anticipates Our Twilight [part 2]

shriekback monktone
Shriekback, L-R: Barry Andrews, Martyn Barker, Carl Marsh

[…continued from last post]

After the preceding steel fist in a velvet glove, “Good Disruption” managed to put a little wind in our sails with another of this album’s late 60s throwback vibes. The Doors-like late 60s cool groove was driven by the call and response from Mr. Andrews’ electric organ and clavinet interplay; torn from the Manzarek playbook. But it was Mr. Marsh’s languid surf guitar licks that were the icing on the warm, fresh, cake.

The nonsense nursery rhyme chorus was a great hook for this paradoxically moody slice of optimism that wisely arrived at this mostly melancholy album’s mid-point. We’re not going anywhere out of this existential morass without a whole lot of good disruption!

At first, the glitchy synth loops at the start of “Everything Happens So Much” had me thinking of Barry Andrews solo material, but the sturdy rolling rhythm of Mr. Barker quickly brought the song back into the Shriekzone. Nevertheless, it’s an enervated and anxious groove that showed Mr. Andrews [understandably] recoiling from the horror of the zeitgeist. Somehow he managed to encapsulate the vertiginous sensation of our world and the humans upon it spinning faster into chaos at the unrelenting pace of the song’s martial rhythm. All enhanced by some dour synth bass courtesy of Scott Firth.

I appreciated how the tension of the verse structure gave way to the shimmering and evanescent chorus of wonder that brought us relief from it all on glissandos of “Star Trek” guitar such as to make Robin Guthrie weep with joy. Here was a song that certainly captured how I feel in this roiling vortex of the now. How we answer it is up to each of us, but Mr. Andrews posed the question here with definitive pathos and generosity.

I will interrogate my spirit guide –

Ask her why the world is amplified;

How it happens

Why everything happens so much?

“Everything Happens So Much”

“Different Story” was one that ambled by on a playful electric piano hook while giving Carl Marsh an opportunity for one of his spoken word middle eights that he has had a penchant for lately [Cf. “The Painter Paints“]. It acted as good pacing in the arc of songs as the lightest moment in this somewhat sombre album.

Then the superb title track allowed Mr. Marsh to sing the existential lament of “1000 Different Books.” It is perhaps more typical for Andrews to helm the Shriekback songs which inhabit that dark night of the soul but that is not always the case as Marsh proved here. The music bed was almost an abstract keening of indistinct layers until the rhythms of Mr. Barker in the gave this one its grounding in the second verse. The essential crux of the haunting song [and its chorus] came down to a quote by director Andrei Tarkovsky that was its genesis:

“A book read by a thousand people is a thousand different books.”

Andrei Tarvoksky

Then the final word came down to Mr. Andrews singing the spectral coda to the album. “Wild World” was built on a tritone drone loop of great distance, with Andrews’ hushed tones touched with a distancing vocoder. It was all a little arid and frosty until the comforting synths that swelled during the brief chorus that acted as a spiritual respite in the face of the ultimate finality. Which was acknowledged with a dispassionate and clear-eyed acceptance, even as the song sought to dispense the closest thing to benediction that it could.

And the Wild World listens as you sing

and the Wild World wants you for a sunbeam

…although the light is fading 

there’s still enough to read by

and the world will hold a candle for you

as the hallucinations speed by

and you’d better make your peace with

all the things you know are true now

and all the things you didn’t do 

…that you’re never gonna do now

“Wild World”

This latest Shriekback album comes in a cover photographed by Joe Del Tufo that’s a photo illustration of a blue book in a landscape bled of color until it’s bone white. That’s an appropriate a visual metaphor for this largely melancholy album that cannot help but reflect the diminished circumstances that are not only the pandemic affecting humanity, but the even worse occurrences happening simultaneously, such as rapid climate change and a seemingly universal erosion of liberal democracy everywhere at once. One cannot help but maintain a sense that the dominoes are all falling simultaneously and that this music can’t help but reflect that reality.

The last three Shriekback albums all coalesce into a satisfying response of the band to the last few years of an increasingly blood-chilling landscape that humanity finds itself in. One where our enlightened leaders have corralled all of us to our detriment. “Why Anything? Why This?” and “Some Kinds Of Light” could still muster a sense of defiance and challenge. A raging at the dying of the light. “1000 Books” is more a case of the band entering the “acceptance phase” of the position where we find ourselves in 2021/2022. We’ve got autocratic demagogues running wild. A worldwide pandemic with no sense that it can ever stop at this point as it inches ever closer to endemic status. And the climate is in a catastrophe phase where nothing we’ve prepared for is guaranteed to happen. Anywhere.

For the second time in a row the band have been produce by Christopher Skirl and the machines have been kept largely at bay. There are synth noises here but they are tucked into the corners. The dominant keyboards are coming from a 1971 perspective. The glorious acoustic drums are vivid and present. The band have made this album in pandemic conditions as opposed to the “together in the studio” practice of the last one specifically. It’s all they can do in the face of increasingly difficult odds. But at the end of the day they have been fantastically productive.

They have released three albums in four years. Without Covid-19, they probably would have hit an annual target. Unlike any of their peers that I could name. Shriekback in the 21st century currently sound as though they have taken a lot of inspiration from their return to live activity in the last few years. Anyone expecting the techno-thrash of “Oil + Gold” might not recognize the band, but that was half a lifetime ago and these gents are cutting away the fripperies and fashions of youth for something a little more timeless. They are crafting music to be a beacon to other like minds who are also staring into the ever widening void and for that we can only be thankful.

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Shriekback are self-powered and their music is available at their web store in full-res DL and CD formats. With specially priced bundles with other related materials [which we’ll get to tomorrow…].

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Record Review: Shriekback’s “1000 Books” Anticipates Our Twilight [part 1]

shriekback 100 books cover art
Shriekback | UK | CD-R | 2021

Shriekback: 1000 Books – UK – CD-R [2021]

  1. Space In The Blues
  2. Unholiness
  3. Portobello Head
  4. Slowly At First, Then All At One Time
  5. Good Disruption
  6. Everything Happens So Much
  7. Different Story
  8. 1000 Different Books
  9. Wild World

Last spring Shriekback started a crowdfunding campaign for their 16th album, citing delivery at the end of the year, and as duly noted in the last week of 2021, the CD flew from the UK and into my mailbox. I’ve got to hand it to these gents; they can hit their delivery target even in a pandemic. Which can’t be simple to do, as we’ve seen many struggle in the pandemic with crowdsourcing issues. But these guys were crowdsourcing releases as long as 20 years ago! They know this stuff forwards and backwards by now.

The tone for the album was set with Carl Marsh opening up with “Space In The Blues.” It was an elegiac yet gently bombastic example of the band’s penchant for having a clear-headed assessment of the difficult times we find ourselves in during this [so far] unpleasant 21st century. We’ve got existential doom bearing down on us like a freight train and Shriekback [as ever] attempt to sound the alarm bells and try to negotiate a way through multiple calamities vying for our heads. In the uplifting and human capacity for song; touched by the glorious backing harmonies of Sarah and Wendy Partridge [as per usual].

I am blessed and cursed

I am fearing the worst

Obsessively charting our last days on earth

In the luminous dawn

The irrational gleam

With everything coming apart at the seams

I will fall, fall fall

Through the space in the blues

“The Space In The Blues”

Surprisingly, we had another song with Carl singing lead following that one. “Unholiness” was certainly one from the his wheelhouse with the song’s funky swagger being the sort of thing we most associate with the mature oeuvre of Mr. Marsh. The track had a surprising late 60s vibe with Mr. Andrews leading with a Hammond organ patch that was capably matched with a honest-to-goodness Acid Rock guitar solo in the middle eight that came out of nowhere.

This was also one of three tracks with bass guitar from PiL’s Scott Firth guesting for added heft. Firth managed a jaunty syncopation with Martyn Barker’s acoustic drumkit as the band’s Linn days seem far behind them in the rear view mirror. Thank goodness.

“Portobello Head” opened with what sounded like an obscure soundbite with a strange voice intoning “…to solve this mystery, I’m gonna’ have to dissect my own head!” Then Barry Andrews unleashed one of his darkly surreal slices of Shreikadelia that once more, featured Scott Firth on bass. This one dovetailed effortlessly into the vibe established on the previous track with the band’s groove attaining their most hedonic sound even as the rhythmic asides [“cuff me to the radiator” – “hook me to the generator”] in the lyric called out to imprisonment and torture. How like Shriekback to send those mixed messages for maximum cognitive dissonance.

Softened as we were by then through the band’s opening salvos, the album’s real payload began not with a bang but a whimper. In “Slowly At First Then All At Once,” Mr. Andrews had given us a minimal hymn; crafted from the meter of “It’s All Right Ma [I’m Only Bleeding]” and given a subtle and self-effacing a delivery as possible.

It began with a micro-focus on the personal. The lifespan of love in four couplets, but quickly expanding its scope to envelope the very political as seen through the band’s most dryly dispassionate lens. Mr. Andrews was not interested in casting blame for humanity’s multifold woes coming home to roost in these times; only in describing the inexorable death of the democratic ideal that has been deemed surplus to the wishes of the Ruling Class.

Ubu Roi and Mu’ammar: with all their sadopopular ambitions,

[characterized by many lies beyond the scope of even politicians]

Dismantled one by one the democratic institutions of their nations.

Then the knocks at midnight came and the executions, pogroms and deportations

And everyone ignored the signs:

The gradual crescendo of their crimes.

Slowly it comes at first, then all at one time.

“Slowly At First Then All At Once”

The music was only a faint suggestion of glitch with an organ drone and synth shimmer relegated to the distant background. A droning eBow guitar at the song’s mid-point was almost startling as the now martial drums joined the song to carry the gut-punch power of the lyric necessary to put this devastating number across. And put it across it most certainly did.

Next: …Disruption In The Wilderness

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