It was eight months ago when I was trumpeting the arrival of an ultrabox of Paul Haig’s “The Warp Of Pure Fun” and there’s no shortage of items on my want list but this one was a rarity in that I actually acted upon it and bought a copy. Two actually, since it was a perfect birthday gift for a friend and I might as well save on the postage!
Until now I have only had various 12″ singles from Haig, and they have always delighted. I first encountered him very late; as the writer of “Sorry For Laughing” on Propaganda’s “A Secret Wish” album. I had not yet heard Josef K, and even in 1985, it took me a while to find some of his 12″ers in America. But they showed what could be done with commercial Dance Pop that still had Post-Punk sensibilities running through them.
Come 1990, and my revelations regarding Associates, I couldn’t help but notice that Haig was tight with both members of that band. Recording with each of them over the years. Alan Rankine said that this was one of the first projects he threw himself into after the 1982 split of Associates. Citing the caliber of Haig’s songs as reason to jump into the production.
Disc 1 – Album and B-Sides
1. Silent Motion
2. Heaven Help You Now
3. Love Eternal
4. This Dying Flame
5. Sense of Fun
6. Scare Me
7. Big Blue World
8. The Only Truth
9. One Lifetime Away
10. Love & War
11. Ghost Rider (b side)
12. Endless Song (b side)
13. Dangerous Life (b side)
14. The Executioner (Mix *1)
15. Closer Now (b side)
16. Trust (b side)
17. World Raw (b side)
The portentous opener of “Silent Motion” set the pace deceptively, pregnant with melodrama and the crash of tympani. Cinematic synth chords evoking Morricone were matched by the performance of Haig, operating in the theatrical baritone range also used by Peter Murphy. Leaving me wide open for the sucker-punch of the electric “Heaven Help You Now,” which coursed along like the best single you never heard from New Order. Actually, it recalls one of the best singles you did hear from New Order. This September 1985 Haig single sure plays like the blueprint for “Bizarre Love Triangle”, which graced our ears in November of 1986. And given that Bernard Sumner actually produced “The Only Truth” here, I can’t believe that he was not aware of “Heaven Help You Now!”
As a kiss off to an ex-girlfriend, “Heaven Help You Now” was peerlessly great with sequencer rondos that encircled the listener over a pumping bass line as Haig delivered a performance that crackled with vocal electricity. Walking the fine line between judgement and hurt, I loved how one could hear him grinning like a shark when delivering the payoff line in the verse below. Listen and love.
“Love Eternal” was maybe a better deep cut choice than a single, and the subsequent “This Dying Flame” was the track that really made an impact as it was an appealing blend of sequenced bass, choral patches, live drums and fretless bass, with some star guitar turns by Alan Rankine. It managed to salvage a sense of hope following the bitter turn of “Heaven Help You Now.” Hard to believe that it was not a single, somewhere.
Another missed single opportunity here was the epic, near-electro of “Sense Of Fun.” The sequenced bass and real drums were syncopating in ways far more groovy than it would have been with a Linn Drum. Listening to the sequenced eighth notes, I can’t believe that this was not remixed by Arthur Baker, but I guess he was booked pretty solid in 1985! Haig’s vocal was filled with a swaggering power than invested the music with a brashness that erupted from the song.
The Benelux-only single “Big Blue World” was an upbeat blend of synth bass and poppy, late 60’s vocal vibe. With lots of “whoa-woahs” and plenty of femme backing vocals. Haig was disenchanted with how his UK label passed on it as a single, but when I listen to this it gives off a strong vibe of the sort that I think Billy MacKenzie was aiming for on his “Wild + Lonely” Associates album. Apart from the curiously downbeat instrumental middle eight here.
Massive external firepower was brought to bear on the excellent single “The Only Truth” with both Donald Johnson from A Certain Ratio and Bernard Sumner of New Order co-producing the song with Haig. The latter being a cheeky devil who thought nothing of biting the famous drum break in “Blue Monday” and dropping it into this song, not ten seconds in! It’s such a magnificent song with more than enough impeccable club energy, that I can’t help but think that they should have left that out. It does the song no favors by inviting comparison. Meanwhile, the track’s Latinesque Electro stylings were plenty of reason to invite Johnson from ACR to ply his trade here on production. And the simply, memorable chorus was as meta as they come; as shown below.
“One Lifetime Away” was the one downtempo ballad in the original album program. With a stripped down, more minimal sound compared to the rest of the program. But at the song’s midpoint, the sung underwent a surprising tonal shift with a shift to minor chords and prominent female backing vocals and synth strings painting the second half of the song as more of an extended coda. The closing “Love + War” was a great climax to the album proper, with its sustained, fortissimo, ascending violin buildup [courtesy of labelmate Blaine Reininger, naturally] lasting for an impressive half a minute of memorable melodrama.
Next came a wave of B-sides and rare cuts to fill out the strong album CD. We’ve previously discussed the twangtastic Rockabilly-slash-dub of Haig’s Suicide cover; “Ghost Rider”.” As much as the album featured some great guitar, this one’s drenched in Malcolm Ross’ guitars. With Haig employing the slapback hiccup vocal style that made the logical leap to touches of dub by the great cover’s end. “Endless Song” was another “Big Blue World” B-side touched by the distinctive synth string that manifests on many a record that Alan Rankine played on in this era. The caliber of the B-side material for this album would be many acts finest hours.
According to the liner notes to this box, Haig was very self-deprecating about “Dangerous Life.” Describing it as “filler.” He needs to lighten up! This was a cut he recorded entirely by himself and it sported tight rhythm guitar syncopation that built up a funky head of steam for a one man band scenario! At 3:19 it flies in, makes an impression, and leaves you wanting more. There’s not much more we can ask of B-sides.
Being on Les Disques Du Crépuscule with Cabaret Voltaire in 1983, “The Executioner [mix #1]” was an attempt by label bead Michel Duval to link up Haig with the Sheffield duo just prior to their Virgin/Some Bizzare era. So it’s a sample heavy Electrofunk track instead of a more typical Haig song, but that didn’t mean it didn’t work like a charm. I think of Cab Volt as being so insular, I have to wonder; did they have any other linkups like this one? The finished product came down closer to the Cab Volt side of the fence; not that I minded any!
More Electrofunk came with “Closer Now,” an unreleased track that didn’t even get roped into a B-side situation somewhere. This one was kind of repetitive but the insistent synth riff and the repetition gave this another whiff of Cab Volt more than anything else. “Trust” was an intriguing downtempo track that veered close to a Samba rhythm; all executed on machines by Haig alone. The groove was almost trance inducing, and I could see this being a very different song in the hands of …Sade, perhaps. I enjoyed the very prominent synth bass being dominant here. Finally, “World Raw” was a sample-centric, apocalyptic instrumental track from the B-side to “Heaven Help You Now” that once more, came close to the Cab Volt gameplan when all was said and done.
Next: …Remixes, Outtakes, + Rarities…Oh My!
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Closer Now was released on the European Sun – Archive Collection 1982 – 1987 album in 1987, said the picky messerschmidt…
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