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

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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3 Responses to Record Review: Shriekback’s “1000 Books” Anticipates Our Twilight [part 1]

  1. McRonson says:

    Uh, Shriekback…weren’t they formed by Dave Formula of Magazine fame?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      McRonson – Naaaaaw. The original Shriekback lineup were Barry Andrews [ex-League Of Gentlemen, XTC], Dave Allen [ex-Gang Of Four], Martyn Barker, Carl Marsh. Carl Marsh was actually ex-Out On Blue Six, but has anyone ever heard that 1981 single yet? Not me.

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  2. Pingback: Record Review: Stic Basin III | Post-Punk Monk

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