Ocean travel without a boat

Journal of Peter Greenwell

Tag: post-punk (page 1 of 2)

Sad Lovers and Giants – Epic Garden Music

This English band flew under nearly everyone’s radar, which of course is an abysmal shame. This debut record of theirs, which I’ve only discovered in the last year, is a delightful surprise to an old post-punk/new wave fan such as myself. First, a word on the track listing. The original LP which appeared in 1981 contained eight songs and began with Echoplay.

The re-release, which I’ve been listening to almost religiously on Spotify, has seven more tracks, which are affixed to the beginning, and this is the version that Allmusic.com has reviewed here. And what seven glorious tracks they are. It begins with the transcendent Imagination which is frankly, one of the best things I’ve heard. Chiming keyboards, a steady beat, accusatory yet wistful lyrics sung in a clear tenor. Imagination was re-recorded for their next record and that version is slightly different, just a little less driving.

Of our starting new seven, When I See You and Things We Never Did are just brilliant, especially the latter with its saxophone. Colourless Dream and Lost in a Moment aren’t that far behind either.

Echoplay, Clocktower Lodge and Clint are shatteringly brilliant tracks, notably the last with its piping keyboards and the album closer Far From the Sea ends things on a vibrantly eerie note.

Really, this is post-punk at its most playful and melodic. There’s doom and gloom here, mostly in the lyrics, but it’s wrapped in such sparkling music, it hands it to you gently, velvet gloved.

A wonderful record.

epic garden music

The Cure – Seventeen Seconds

Welcome to album number two for The Cure. After the short and sharp post-punk of Three Imaginary Boys, this record is quite a dynamic leap in the dismally grand direction the band is renowned for. Seventeen Seconds is the first of what many fans consider a great trilogy (the Dark Trilogy) of goth records. This LP is more reflective than goth, and the theme seems to be quiet moments alone rather than threnodies to gloom and eschatology. If threnodies are your thing, then their next album Faith fits that bill nicely.

Fittingly for a reflective record, the first track is called A Reflection, an oddly unsettling instrumental piece that leads into the slightly churning Play For Today, which was released as a single. The instrumentation is pleasingly sparse with nothing truly blurring or obscuring anything else. Despite the simple arrangements, there’s plenty of atmosphere and mystery with each track, especially on the patently weird Three and the approaching sinister At Night.

The strangest it gets on the record is the standout single A Forest, which doesn’t so much sound like being in a forest than it does being stranded on some stark, alien landscape. Somewhat fittingly, I was reading Jack Vance‘s Planet of Adventure foursome when I first heard this song, specifically the bit in The Dirdir where Adam Reith and his companions are being hunted in the Carabas. So I’ve always equated the song, magnificent as it is, with a faraway strange place.

A quiet, moody record for quiet, moody times.

seventeen seconds lp cover

The Church – After Everything Now This

Well OK, with this record, The Church have released what is effectively their most blah piece of work. Repeated listens haven’t revealed the undercurrents and nuances that normally pervade any good Church record. It’s a consistently reflective and calm effort that swoons by without ever taking hold. Songs like The Awful Ache and Chromium mix things up a bit but not to the point where it offers the record refreshing variety, because quite simply, variety doesn’t exist here.

After Everything Now This is record number twelve and comes three years after their covers LP Box of Birds and, more tellingly, a year before one of their better outings in the excellent Forget Yourself. Maybe the memo went out to start mixing the formula again after this record. Yet, this isn’t to say After Everything Now This is a bad album – it’s not. It’s full of the usual suspect Church ingredients but rather than sugar, it’s been replaced by saccharine here. Or stevia. I’d like to think it was stevia actually.

But this record is for completionists only, of which I am one. A new fan of The Church eagerly delving into their wonderful discography should skip this one for the nonce.There are better records from this band to begin a grand adventure in neo-psychedelic ecstasy.

after everything now this

Lloyd Cole & the Commotions – Rattlesnakes

Way back when, 1984 to be precise, I heard this jaunty jangle/country rock tune on the radio. That tune was the titular song of this record. I did the logical thing and bought the album on cassette, where I proceeded to give it numerous, repeated listens. On the record I discovered ten very literate, articulate and eminently pleasurable songs.

The title track is the standout, but there are many others – there isn’t a weak song here, Charlotte Street, Four Flights Up, Perfect Skin…Yes, it’s one of those records, I’m happy to say. Ten tracks of gently, swaying music that ranges from vibrant country rock to reflective new wave with an intelligent and literate edge. I’m also happy to say that unlike a lot of 80’s music (yes, looking at you Icehouse, INXS), the sound hasn’t dated at all. This record could have been feasibly released yesterday.

Lead singer Lloyd Cole‘s background as a literature major ensures that the lyrics repay careful listening, and there’s no sign (thankfully) of any baby, baby stuff, not unfacetiously anyway.

Their next album, the sterile sounding Easy Pieces was an acquired taste, and I’ve not given anything subsequent a proper listen so I can’t say how things panned out, but this debut record seems to be the high water mark for the artist.

rattlesnakes

The Church – Of Skins and Heart

Some artists are defined forever by their first records. E.g soft rock star Christopher Cross and his debut in 1980. Essentially everything else Cross has ever released has been ignored and not charted. In fact, it’s probably a case of Cross who?

Thankfully, The Church didn’t suffer Cross Syndrome and have gone on to release many superb records, a few of which charted better than this stellar debut effort.

It’d be near impossible to define The Church by any record as each one thrives on its individual, internal logic. Of Skins and Heart is no different. It is a far rougher and rawer record than anything they’ve released subsequently, especially the reflective and atmospheric The Blurred Crusade which came next. Even slow and ponderous tracks like Don’t Open The Door To Strangers have a tumbledown spontaneity.

This record is harder edged and generally rockier than anything that comes after it in The Church‘s oeuvre. In fact, the first four songs on this record thunder along like nothing they have ever done again. When we get to Bel Air, affairs slow down a touch, but a marvellous melody takes over. And on She Never Said, The Church does its best New Wave thing – a genre they never really visited again.

Later releases have included the British Invasion sounding Too Fast For You, the dreamy Tear It All Away and the trippy Sisters, all of which were originally released on an EP with the songs Fraulein and You’ve Got To Go. And why this record never included the wicked, surging Bus Driver is one of life’s ineffable mysteries.

Also, this is one of the few albums to grab me on first listen.

of skins and hearts

The Cure – Faith

This is record number three for the Cure, if one discounts the rehash/cobbled together thing that is Boys Don’t Cry. Yes, let’s discount it, if only for simplicity’s sake.

The two albums that came before this were arguably post-punk, with the quieter Seventeen Seconds edging onto some of the gloom-doom road this band was heading down. Three Imaginary Boys was full of sharp staccato bursts of guitar, walking bass lines and throbbing percussion. Seventeen Seconds slowed affairs down a bit and upped the goth and atmosphere quotient, especially on otherworldly classics like A Forest. Well, they’ve reached their gloom-doom destination on Faith, and what a marvellous destination it is.

Each of the eight tracks on this record are testaments to sparse and tight thinking – guitar, bass and drums with subdued keyboards, each instrument clearly defined, although the Cure does manage to pull off the sense of hints and allusions throughout. There are nuances and touched-on flavours everywhere. Even on rockier tracks like Primary and Doubt, there are still hidden corners and fugitive lustres. Simon Gallup’s bass is front and centre on a few tracks too, like opener The Holy Hour and the hypnotic Other Voices.

The highlights here are the dreamy All Cats Are Grey and the wonderful desolation of The Drowning Man. The latter song is an ode to the Gormenghast character of Fuchsia Groan, who is one of literature’s more tragic belles. The song is a hypnotic and droning dirge and comes close to my definition of the ultimate Gothic track.

Yet, this record is unlikely to appeal to any new listener not keyed into the Cure’s early stuff. Yes, it is downbeat and there’s certainly no fun or joy to be found here. Repeated listens are needed unless you’re really surfing the same waves this music is. Critics at the time dismissed this record (and its even gloomier successor Pornography) as a bunch of self-indulgent moping.

And you know, it probably is a bunch of self-indulgent moping, but to me, that just makes this record even more compelling.

the cure - faith

The Saints – Prodigal Son

Disclosure: I’ve not listened fully to any other Saints record, nor have I ever owned any other. Criminal, I know.

Well, on the heels of their breakout record All Fools Day, the Saints reconvened and recorded this. This record features a different lineup than the previous album, but that’s how the Saints rolled. Every record seemed to have a different guy in it, or a returning band member. The only constant was singer/guitarist Chris Bailey.

Prodigal Son is what you’d call a straight up rock album with a slight country edge to it. Side One is made up of faintly ringing melodies, deft touches, chiming guitars, but it doesn’t really grab or hold your attention apart from the confronting Sold Out where Bailey seems to mock the preposterous idea that he – you guessed it – sold out. Lots of brassy horns on that one and it’s a rollicking tune for sure.

Still, Side Two is where it’s at. First up is the dreamy re-recording of their 1983 classic Ghost Ships followed by the rousing Massacre. Tomorrow calms things down a bit then we come to the album highlight of Stay, which rates in my book as one of the best songs ever made. The album then concludes with the folksy yet stark ballad of Shipwreck where Bailey struts his poetic skills. And that’s ballad in the word’s traditional sense too, of a story set to music.

The CD version includes a cover of the Easybeats’ The Music Goes Round My Head which you can safely ignore. It’s a terrible song that was originally on the soundtrack of an equally execrable movie.

OK, in conclusion, Prodigal Son is not a great album. It’s a little too samey on Side One and the songs do blend in to one another. One review stated that it’s “intelligent rock with a prickly edge” and that’s a fair claim. It’s not immediately gripping stuff, and it took me a long time to warm to it, and really listen to anything on it apart from Stay and Ghost Ships. But nowhere does it really sit up and cry out for attention. Understated is a good word to summarise this record. Bailey must’ve thought so too, as this was the last record he made under the Saints name for over ten years.

prodigal son cover

The Church – Remote Luxury

All right, firstly – this album was never released as a single unit in Australia at the time. Instead, we got two EPs – Persia and Remote Luxury. Persia contained Constant in Opal, Volumes, No Explanation, Violet Town and Shadow Cabinet. Remote Luxury (EP) had Maybe These Boys, 10,000 Miles, Into My Hands, A Month of Sundays and the instrumental Remote Luxury. It’s since been remastered and re-released in combination with the earlier EP Sing Songs. Great value, if you ask me.

With that aside, what we have here is Church album number four. After the boom crash ding-dong-along of Seance, the drums have thankfully been pared down in the mix. Things aren’t as dark on this record as they were on the previous one, not that’s that is a bad thing. If you’ve been following along with my dainty little reviews, you’ll know I like dark.

The Church has gotten subtler over the intervening years between this and The Blurred Crusade too. Only Maybe These Boys is truly “open” in its style and structure, however it doesn’t mumble as much as Seance did. Mind you, that mumbling was glorious, but that’s a tale for another review.

The whole thing starts off with Constant in Opal, which sees our Fab Four in fine form. Weird lyrics and even weirder music, and yes, do check out that lovely bizarre music video.

The Persia section of this album is the more up-front one, with greater dynamism and rockier beats. No Explanation would be the highlight of this crop, though many fans cite Shadow Cabinet as their favourite.  Affairs become dreamier and more reflective with the Remote Luxury half of this record. Apart from the pulsing and confrontational Maybe These Boys, the other four songs vary in their reverie, with my favourite being A Month of Sundays.

The music jangles, the lyrics obfuscates and the entire thing is most likely an acquired taste to anyone not in tune with The Church.

Really, the whole shebang was never meant to be a single album and it’s perhaps the least cohesive thing this band did. Regardless, I love it and I thoroughly recommend people go forth and find it, and savour its hidden corners. You can see signs of where they were going next with some of the scintillating guitar weaving and Heyday was the culmination of all that.

remote luxury

Weddings Parties Anything – Scorn of the Women

This is one of the best Australian albums I’ve heard. It was recommended to me back in 1987, when it was released, and I’ve pretty much listened to it intermittently ever since. This music is often described as folk-rock- guitar and accordion driven songs, highly political and personal in nature, all with a sharp and prickly edge to them. There’s no baby, baby stuff here. Nine of the songs are by bandleader Mick Thomas, and the other three are written and sung by guitarist Dave Steel.

Factually, you can discard Steel’s songs. They’re dry, monotonous and soulless things that do nothing for the overall vibe of the record. The nine Thomas songs are something else and are worth the price of the album.

It starts off with the worker’s lament of Hungry Years and rages into the shearer’s night out of the pub song Ladies Lounge. Things get darker with The Infanticide of Marie Farrar, a re-telling of a Berthold Brecht poem, strident with its chiming guitar. She Works is next, about a proud woman who won’t give into her RSI. It’s the album highlight. Then there’s the title track, about a man who’s eyes weren’t good enough to serve a soldier in WW2 and instead made aircraft in western Melbourne. Encapsulates the feeling of the times. Away Away is next, probably the album’s most searing rocker and the most obvious single.

The record loses some steam after this, but picks up nicely with the Irish jig-o-rama of Women of Ireland.

All up, wonderful and thought-provoking. It’s not often potent lyricim is tied to arresting music, but they’re married here and it’s all good.

scorn of the women

The Stranglers – Aural Sculpture

I’ve not listened to any other Stranglers record. Don’t know why exactly…probably just never got around to getting one. Anyhow, critics says Aural Sculpture is one of their more middling efforts. I first bought this LP way back when, on the strength of the single, Skin Deep. Or more correctly, I bought the cassette of the album. The cassette came with a game for the ZX Spectrum, called Aural Quest. Never did play it, though I heard it was nothing great.

This is one of the better albums I’ve ever owned (or listened to) and there really isn’t a poor track on it. Skin Deep is not even the highlight song here. That would go to Uptown, a great romping piece of action. Let Me Down Easy and Souls are high up there as well.

The whole record is underpinned by Dave Greenfield’s wonderful keyboard work. In fact, without it, the music would be fairly blah. Especially since the lyrics are nothing to write home about either. Whatever the case may be, the entire record lilts and floats along on the keyboard and synth sound, and is worth getting hold of just on that basis, IMHO.

Great stuff.

aural sculpture

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