Archives for category: 80s

I spent the second half of 1989 traveling in Europe after finishing up (most of) my BA. I was 22 and after four years in San Francisco, had stowed all my stuff (including a couple hundred CDs, LPs, and tapes) back at my parents’ house in LA before boarding a flight with no music playback device at all. I traveled for six weeks with a friend and after he came back to the US for a job, I really needed some music. I bought a cassette walkman and some tapes. Maybe this blog entry will look back at the dozen or so albums that soundtracked that summer and autumn for me. But, because Cherry Red has graced the world with a 2-CD/1-DVD repackaging of The Stars We Are, I’m going to start there.

The first single, Tears Run Rings, had already been on Live 105’s rotation before I left the states, but I don’t think I’d heard the rest of it. I may have, though, because the interwebs tell me the album came out in 1988. I’m pretty sure I bought my tape of it at a market in Istanbul, but that might be because the song She Took My Soul In Istanbul is so tied up with the week I spent there.

The rockers like the title track, Tears Run Rings, and Bittersweet pull the listener in, but that’s only a part of the skill set Almond brings to the table. We also get some almost cabaret-style pieces (Only the Moment, Your Kisses Burn). To borrow a line from Nina Simone, there are even show tunes for shows that still haven’t been written (Kept Boy, Istanbul).

Aside from Tears Run Rings, what roped me into the album was the macabre knowledge that it contained the result of Nico’s last recording session. I was turned on to the Velvet Underground a few years before and had collected all their albums to that point and started delving into the solo work. Nico’s voice, even when ravaged on late live albums, insinuates itself the way few voices do. And there’s really nothing like the way she slips this between your ears:

I’ll make a fire there in your heart / Made not of love, but only hate
And for the fuel will be your soul / An inferno to consume you whole.

Shudder.

Almond’s cover of Gene Pitney’s hit Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart let the world know that he had the chops. It’s a tossup whether his solo vocal, or the duet with Pitney himself is the better. Initial pressings of the album had the solo version, but it was replaced by the duet which was itself a hit. This deluxe edition relegates the solo version to the CD of remixes.

Almond and Gene Pitney, 1989

Because my first experience of the album was the cassette, I never considered the LP’s closing song She Took My Soul in Istanbul to be the end of the album. Istanbul slides neatly into The Frost Comes Tomorrow (originally the b-side of Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart) and closer Kept Boy.

Kept Boy is something like a demented outtake from Sunset Boulevard in which the male voice admits to being after the riches of the older woman keeping him, until he realizes she’s poisoned him. While not as rich a song as others on the album, it features Agnes Bernelle as the other voice. Bernelle, whose family left Germany in the 30s and settled in London, earned renown during WWII for broadcasts to Germany and to the resistance. After the war, she acted and recorded cabaret songs.

The first CD in the set concludes with three B-sides, Everything I Wanted Love To Be, King of the Fools, and Real Evil. Disc 2 collects the various remixes including three versions of Tears Run Rings and two of Bitter-Sweet. There’s nothing that wasn’t available at the time of release – nothing live or pulled out of the archives or recovered from the cutting room floor. Gorgeous stuff, all of it, but the liner notes mention shows from ‘87 that featured about half of the album’s songs, and a show in ‘86 that featured an entirely different version of the title track. Some of those goodies would definitely have made my heart skip a beat.

After the minor MTV hit that was Mexican Radio, Stan Ridgway left Wall of Voodoo and a couple of years later released his first solo album, 1983’s The Big Heat on IRS Records, the same label that had released Wall of Voodoo’s first three releases. I’m sure I have wonderful things to say about that album. I wore out the grooves on my cassette of it, for certain. In 1989, Ridgway moved to Geffen Records for his second solo album, Mosquitos, a copy of which has found its way to me for the first time in about 20 years. And it holds up. His music always had the feel of the best noir fiction and musically he pulls on the same devices that make up the atmospheres of Dashiell Hammett novels and Bogart movies.

Thematically, Mosquitos works over the same characters, low-lifes with pessimistic outlooks (Can’t Complain) and guys who think the girl is in it for them (Peg and Pete and Me).

In general the whole album is of a piece. Some of it upbeat (Goin’ Southbound, the aforementioned Last Honest Man), some of it more atmospheric (bookends Heat Takes a Walk/Lonely Town and A Mission In Life). 1989 was a weird year, though, for this kind of album. Two years later, he made his last album for the majors, Partyball. Alas, Geffen put out the made-for-Doctor-Demento track I Wanna Be A Boss as the first single. And people who’d followed Ridgway for a few years said, What the hell?

He continues to make great music, but fell off the radar for me at that point. It might be a case of those being the albums I heard when I was that impressionable age. But I absolutely recommend all three of those first solo albums.

While Mosquitos isn’t available on Bandcamp, there’s a veritable scad of Ridgway goodies (including live recordings from the period) available his BC page.

Discogs links: The Big Heat / Mosquitos / Partyball

Released: November, 1982
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Cascade
Green Fingers
Obsession
She’s a Carnival
Circle

Side 2:
Melt!
Painted Bird
Cocoon
Slowdive

This album has a really strange provenance. In many ways, it’s distinctly not goth at all, and in fact Wikipedia cites its genre as neo-psychedelic, though it has no connection to the west coast neo-psychedelia of the Paisley Underground, for example. There was a lot of tension between the band members themselves as well as their recently fired manager, Nils Stevenson (who the song Obsession might be about). There’s a great interview with Siouxsie that appeared in Uncut about the making of this album.

Lots of drugs, including LSD, but also an insistence that the sound be something new. Roping in real strings and bells to augment the sound rather than using synthesizers. The results are heady and beautiful and unlike anything else in their catalogue.

Lyrically, the songs lean on the emotions of new love, which is not surprising given the newness of Siouxsie’s and Budgie’s relationship. Oh love like liquid falling/Falling in cascades.

Green Fingers seems to be all about someone who can ‘make anything grow / magic in her hands’, but concludes with a repetition of ‘With this ring, I thee wed’. Musically it’s lush and growing and almost slithering out of the speakers.

Obsession, a slow waltz with instrumentation very low in the mix, is indeed about someone’s obsessive behavior, but told almost sympathetically from the point of view of the obsessive, not the object. It bears a strange resemblance to Throbbing Gristle’s Persuasion.

The album picks up speed with She’s A Carnival, which might be my favourite song on the album, except that its swirling mood stops quite suddenly to be replaced in the last minute with a circus organ sort of thing. Those first two and a half minutes are so sweet, though.

Circle is the only song that harkens back to an earlier sound. The minimal repetitive instrumentation with monotonous trap drum as the only percussion backs a song that starts off being about a girl of 16 who gets pregnant and has a baby like her own mother, but as the song progresses, it’s about the repetitions of life and poverty and discipline reflected in the musical repetitions and with references in the middle to the various lines of the London Underground, “Any line you can think of but for the Yellow” (which I’m pretty sure would be the Circle line.

Side two opens with the first of the album’s two singles, Melt!, which had always seemed to be about sex, but the song is also run through with references to death and funerals. But the intertwining of the two is not a new thing.

Painted Bird is another wildly festive song in arrangement, but seems to be about birds who attack their own when they perceive it to be somehow alien. It’s not an obvious point in the song, but the metaphor of society attacking those seen to be different or accused of difference is not hard to miss.

Cocoon is a weird piece of chamber jazz in which the subject wrapped in blankets on a cot imagines herself transforming but isn’t. The arrangement circles around a stand-up bass line and doesn’t (like most of this album) resemble anything they’d previously done. But the evolution it indicates will turn up on Tinderbox and Through The Looking Glass a couple of years later.

And the album concludes with the second single, Slowdive, which should have been a bigger hit given how obviously it is about sex. The slinky violin and viola arrangement draws the listener down into the music.

Sadly, John McGeoch’s excesses where just that much more excessive than those of the rest of the band that he was booted upon the album’s release. Robert Smith joined the band for the following tour and the next Banshees album, Hyaena.

That said, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse is absolutely a five-star album and one I’ve reveled in having on repeat the last couple of weeks.

Next: The Creatures’ Feast.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Things_(EP)
Recorded 25-27 May 1981
Released: 25 September 1981
Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux, Budgie
Producer: Mike Hedges
Track list:
  1. Mad Eyed Screamer
  2. So Unreal
  3. But Not Them
  4. Wild Thing
  5. Thumb
Recorded just before Juju was released, and released later the same year, Wild Things comprised five songs across two 7” singles, at least one of which (But Not Them) was worked up during the Juju sessions. The idea behind The Creatures was that the ideas worked well as just percussion and voice.
Mad Eyed Screamer seems an appropriate soundtrack fo these times. It seems to describe sideshow preacher or world-bedraggled, drug addled street person. The title phrase also aptly describes this years demonstrators.
So Unreal points at the same dynamics, but from the perspective of having known the titular screamer before? I wish I could feel the way that you feel? No it’s not that, it’s that the person being addressed has gone the way of normalcy. All the traits you had have all gone away / Get up and wash at the right time of day. It might be a guise, but it it’s a desirable one. Get out of the scene and get into the so-called real world?
But Not Them is a classic Siouxsie lyric pointing to a murder (or more) that has occurred. Dead lumps of meat / Melt in this heat.
The cover of the Chip Taylor classic Wild Thing, which gives the EP its title (suggested by Steve Severin as the kind of thing the creatures in Where The Wild Things Are would have danced to), is twisted to one side. A classic declaration of love? No. Wild Thing, I think I hate you / But I want to know for sure / Come and hit me hard / I hate you.
Finally, there’s Thumb, which uses recordings of traffic at the opening and closing for a backing, and describes life mostly from the point of view of a hitchhiker:
One for the road, jump inside little girl take a ride by my side / No end to the ride with this stranger tonight.
The drum/voice nature of the Creatures’ work offers a starkness to Siouxsie’s lyrical approach to the world that is often subsumed in the Banshees’ work. These songs were remastered and included in the 1997 compilation A Bestiary of the Creatures.
Next up: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse

 

Released: June, 1981
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Spellbound
Into the Light
Arabian Knights
Halloween
Monitor

Side 2:
Night Shift
Sin In My Heart
Head Cut
Voodoo Dolly

Released just 10 months after Kaleidoscope, Nigel Gray is still at the helm.
Juju was preceded by the Spellbound single in May. Arabian Knights was released as a single in July.

After the tour for Kaleidoscope, this is the first album by this incarnation of the Banshees as a tested unit. Musically it’s their most cohesive set yet. The songs are individually different while each obviously contributes to a whole vision. Interestingly the album seems built around Budgie’s percussion and McGeoch’s guitar. Severin’s bass tends to be really low in the mix. (This may be a by-product of listening to the Spotify recording on earbuds, as well.)

And as I delve into the lyrics, which never really sunk in, the repeated themes of death and murder and violent sex are more surprising than I expected them to be. I listened to this album repeatedly in my youth, but never took that dive into what Siouxsie was actually singing about.

Musically, it’s anchored by a continuously maintained eastern atmosphere. This is more obvious on side one, especially on Arabian Knights, but each song feeds on that feeling. The chord changes that anchor Into The Light are another example. Arabian Knights features a minor key thing that feels like it’s being played from under water. I can’t identify what (I think) McGeoch is doing there. The finger cymbals also contribute.

Album opener, Spellbound, which was always one of my favourites, is a pop masterpiece on the one hand, but a horror show on the other. It’s similar in theme to previous work that explored the madness inherent in the family structure. Earlier, Siouxsie might have spun it on the axis of the child, but here she uses the line ‘And when your elders forget to say their prayers / take them by the legs, and throw them down the stairs’ as a counterpoint to the chorus’s ‘Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance / we are entranced.’ On the one hand, it’s revenge (possibly), but balanced by the insanity of childhood.

Halloween, which made onto many of my goth era’s mix tapes, wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the first three albums, but again, McGeoch’s guitar work separates it especially from the first lineup of the band. The toms and vibraslap that anchor the chorus are especially infectious.

Side one closes with Monitor, which I’ve always found to be amongst the strangest of the band’s songs. Musically it’s got this driving rhythm that doesn’t really resemble anything else in the post-punk or goth canon. At five and half minutes, it’s still beat in length by Night Shift and Voodoo Dolly on side 2. There’s something sweet in the fact that they took the time to give the songs the room they need to breathe and express what each one needs to.

Into The Light probably has lyrical depths I’m not plumbing but the song balances on repetitions of the rhymes light, white, sight, night, right. The rhythms pull the listener in as if through an aural spinning spiral. This is similar to the repeating motifs in Voodoo Dolly at the end of the album.

Arabian Nights combines images of oil spills, harems, and the repetition of I heard a rumour / what have you done to her. I’m not sure whether the music triumphs over the lyrics or the repetition is the point. Halloween pulls us again into the arena where the adult addresses the child who was:
The carefree days are distant now /I wear my memories like a shroud
I try to speak, but words collapse / Echoing, echoing “Trick or treat”

Monitor plays with the imagery of violence, possibly of a snuff film, pulling us into its horror:
And we shook with excitement / Then the victim stared up
Looked strangely at the screen / As if her pain was our fault.
Closing out side one with this kind of indictment, there was nothing left to do but flip it over and hear what came next.

Night Shift starts with those slow eastern chords and when Siouxsie enters, it’s in the style of a nursery rhyme. That she’s singing of someone visiting a morgue to commit acts of necrophilia (My night shift sisters / with your nightly visitor), well, we’re in the realm of the gothic after all. Musically, it’s crazy noise wrapped around Siouxsie’s disturbingly restrained vocals.

Sin In My Heart opens with finger-picked rhythms punctuated once with the sound of breaking glass. The minimal lyrics, again about sex, are mostly a placeholder for Budgie to wrap his rolling beats around.

Head Cut. Yeah. I want to take this severed head back to my house and keep it to make up and attract flies. And cook? Possibly. And astoundingly danceable all the same.

And the whole circus closes with mini-epic Voodoo Dolly. The singer addresses someone under the thrall of someone or something (She’s such an ugly little dolly / and she’s making you look very silly…you get paralyzed with her fear). The story part of the song evolves into a crazy repetition of the words listen, listen, listen, to your fear. Again, that hypnotic repetition draws you in. It’s an appropriate way to close the album.

While I’ve got great love for the first three albums (and, really, for most of the catalogue), those are 3 or 3 1/2 star albums. I give Juju five stars.

Next up: Wild Things!