Record Review: Ornamental – No Pain

Gramm | UK | 12"| | 1987 | GRAMM 28

Gramm | UK | 12″| | 1987 | GRAMM 28

Ornamental: No Pain UK 12″ [1987]

  1. No Pain
  2. No Pain #2 [short mix]
  3. Le Sacré d’Hiver
  4. No Pain [get ready mix]

By all accounts, when Ornamental surfaced in 1987 they were that rarest of species; a New Wave supergroup. I first became aware of them when watching an episode of Snub-TV on Night Flight that year.

Ornamental lineup [L-R]: Rose McDowall, Einar Orn, David Ball

Ornamental lineup [L-R]: Rose McDowall, Einar Orn, David Ball

Seeing as I was all about The Sugarcubes at that time, and being a long-standing Strawberry Switchblade fan, the video they played for Ornamental, a side project of vocalist/trumpet man Einar Örn, was a must-have. I was more interested in buying CD singles in that heady time, but seeing how this record was on an indie label I’d never heard of [Gramm] such delights were never manifest. It was vinyl or nothing, so this was one of the few new 12″ singles that I bought in the ’85-’95 period. I bought the 12″ at Murmur Records during a lunch hour. That’s right. In 1987, I worked two blocks up the street from the best record store in town. Needless to say, I spent a lot of lunch hours [and money] there until my office changed locations.

Once I got the record, I was surprised to discover that the music was largely the province of David Ball of Soft Cell, so this was a triple threat project full of the sort of goodness that was spread out in my Record Cell, albeit in newly concentrated form. Usually supergroups were the stuff of classic rock stars in the 70s, not New Wavers from the 80s. “No Pain” was an electric disco number that recalled the sort of heavy dance sound that Colourbox had offered on their debut album. The vocals were a not-quite-duet between Rose McDowall [who provided the sugar] and Einar Örn [who was responsible for the medicine.] McDowall sang and Örn did his usual left-field ESL voiceover work in addition to his shredded horn interjections. It was all held together by the big beatbox and slap bass of David Ball. The pummeling beat was heavy handed, but it perfectly suited the equally heavy-handed lyrics, which were the sort of philosophical provocation that had me looking for telltale signs of Malcolm McLaren. This brassy dance monster had some of the best semiotic discourse this side of Scritti Politti.

The short 3:27 version of the tune was acceptable, but the 12″ version was the dosage best taken. At 5:11, it certainly didn’t overstay its welcome. The B-side, “Le Sacré d’Hiver” was another big beat dance bomb, this time featuring only Örn’s vocals, but barely that as his scant vocals were almost an afterthought as Ball got busy with those drum machines. The final track on the 12″ was a remix of “No Pain” that put a slightly dubby spin on things. When it abruptly ended just 5:22 in, it was jarring. The track sounded like it easily had at least another two minutes of running time safely ahead of it.

ornamental - crystalnightsUK12AI liked the juxtaposition of Örn’s manic pronouncements sitting cheek by jowl with the winsome McDowall. Just as in The Sugarcubes, there was a magic that resulted by having this Icelander speaking in English while a femme vocalist held it all down elsewhere. I know that there were voices wondering when Bjork would go solo so they didn’t have to listen to his spoken-word caterwaulings on Sugarcubes records. The iTunes official review for “Great Crossover Potential” actually calls him “irritating.” I respectfully disagree. For me, Örn was the unlikely Element X that made the Sugarcubes truly great. I have the first two Bjork albums, but I soon lost interest in what came afterward. I just discovered today that there was another Ornamental record, “Crystal Nights.” While having a bit of a loaded title, one thing it did not have was Örn or Ball. This record was just McDowall with one of her pals from Current 93, with whom she collaborated on their records often in the post-Strawberry Switchblade era. Ironically, the 12″ was released on The Sugarcubes label in spite of no members of that band on this record. Seeing as how I still like McDowall, I should try to get a copy of this and report back with my findings.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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