Record Review: Carmel – The Drum Is Everything

Metronome | GER | CD | 1986 |  820 221-2

Metronome | GER | CD | 1986 | 820 221-2

Carmel: The Drum Is Everything GER CD [1986]

  1. More, More, More
  2. Stormy Weather
  3. The Drum Is Everything
  4. I Thought I Was Going Mad
  5. The Prayer
  6. Rockin’ On Suicide
  7. Rue St. Denis
  8. Willow Weep For Me
  9. Tracks On My Tears
  10. Bad Day

I first heard Carmel when the video for “More, More, More” was excerpted on MTV’s “London Calling” in 1984. I took a shine to the upbeat soul-jazz-gospel hybrid sound after seeing 45 seconds of the video, as did a friend of mine, but I never saw the album and it left my mind. Three years later, I was in an unusual CD-only [!] music store called Digital Sounds” and saw the second Carmel album, “The Falling.”  I picked up the import CD and saw that Brian Eno had produced two tracks on it. Sold, American. With the first listen, Carmel became a must-listen. The band were rocketed to the front of the NWOBJP to my ears! And in 1987, with New Wave petered out, that was much of my musical horizon.

Later that year, I happened to spend more time with the friend who had also liked “More, More, More” and mentioned that “The Falling” was one of my favorite albums of the moment, and he gave me the highly-desired German import CD of the first Carmel album, “The Drum Is Everything” on the spot. A lucky event for me, since the debut album is much less conventional in every way.

I would almost call it a punk-jazz album. True, there’s an underlying African air to the proceedings that legitimately came in the door via bassist Jim Paris’ Guyanese heritage that also conspire to give it a further hybridization. The album was anchored at beginning, middle and end by long tracks that stretched out and colored far outside of the 1984 pop outlines of the time. That two of these were successful British singles was astonishing.

carmel - moremoremoreUK7A“More, More, More” was a shiny, brass driven [18 piece!] lead off song, and a deceptively upbeat and simple tune built around a jaunty organ vamp overlaid with gospel-like singing by Carmel McCourt and backing singers Helen Watson and Shirley Laidley. The latter ladies harmonize like more brass in the orchestra as Carmel wails in the foreground. The song is a fairly joyous starter to an album that is by turns, almost entirely somber and downbeat. The song’s 6:24 length is filled with a multiplicity of brass solos from the large, capable horn section, Sounds 18.

The next track, laid out their jazz aspirations where the instruments on the cover [voice, drum, double bass] were the whole show. The band capably delivered a cool jazz version of a jazz standard. They emphasized the downbeat vibe to the song with a heightened emphasis on the notion of suicide at the song’s core. It’s a powerful version, but the spotlight was definitely on Ms. McCourt’s still raw and undisciplined voice. She makes no bones about coming on strong on this album.

One unusual factor about this album was that not only were a third of its songs almost seven minutes long, but that another third of them were exceptionally brief. Three clock in at 2:00 or under [!] with a fourth well under three. The thrash-tempo title track is exhilarating punk jazz of the kind that I alluded to earlier. The song featured prominent drumming emphasis, for certain, with the lyric content relegated to the title repeated swiftly for four bars before the tune [in true jazz fashion] incorporated the 60s pop chestnut “The Clapping Song” into its furious tempo. Here, drummer Gerry Darby also incorporated electronic drums into his kit and the “thousand pound snare sound” used on the song’s breakneck cold ending was the heaviest drum sound I’ve ever heard on a record to this day.

The vibe was then amped up for the frantic thrash of “I Thought I Was Going Mad!” The skittering amphetamine drums here were overlaid with contrasting solos and fills on an electronic kit by Darby while Carmel’s multi tracked voice ratcheted up the tension with shrill harmonies that buttressed the furiously paced verses she was spitting out as if trying to outrace the song’s scant 1:45 running time. The breakdown in the middle eight was truly exciting stuff that remains hair-raising to this day. The often furious pacing of side one was like a storm that broke here on this electric track.

Next: …Prayers and Tears

About postpunkmonk

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6 Responses to Record Review: Carmel – The Drum Is Everything

  1. Echorich says:

    Carmel is EVERYTHING!! Raw, powerful and unapologetic.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      johnnydark – Yes, I was chastened to discover that all of a sudden the DLX RMs of the early Carmel albums were OOP in just three years and put of reach for me. I have subscribed to their mailing list at the new website [which took a long time to become populated] but to date have received nothing. I need to stay on top of my Carmel game. Interesting that Ms. McCourt had broken ties with Jim Parris for he first time. I wonder what the new material sounds like?

      Like

  2. Adrian says:

    Great review. I own The Drum Is Everything bought when I was a young man! 19 to be precise. I was prompted to play More More More after my 2 year old daughter repeatedly demanded more mints from my pack of Polo mints with the words More More More- I put track on on Spotify and realised how brilliant it was. I’ve now fished out my vinyl copy of The Drum is Everything which I will be playing repeatedly now! I’ll check out the other album you mention based on your great descriptions of the music and your enthu

    Like

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