The Birthday Party - "Live 1981-82" (4AD)
This is a professionally executed collection of classically-influenced pieces of sublime brilliance, played by some of the world's most accomplished musicians and featuring the angelic singing of the sonically-blessed Nicholas Cave. (snigger.)
If you believe that, you'll believe anything. In reality, this is a shambolic mish-mash of arch noise-niks in the throes of three lunatic performances of the type that got them banned from virtually every venue in their native Australia. If the idea of Nick Cave shouting his head off in between animalistic roars and pained screams turns you on, this is what you need. As far as the music goes, there's Mick Harvey doing his trademark guitar thing, but he and the rhythm section seem to have little or no idea what the others are doing. Even when they all sound like they're playing the same song, they're so out of time with each other, it's hard to tell.
This is a drug-fuelled hodgepodge of bad craziness and is almost a horrible mess. But somehow, they manage to make it sound so brilliant that I wish I'd been there (unfortunately, I was only 6 at the time), dodging Nick Cave's boots as he dived into the crowd for the umpteenth time. Music trainspotters may be interested in the fact that the version of 'Funhouse' (recorded in '82) features a certain Jim Thirlwell on sax. This is an essential slice of true alternative music history.
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The Creatures - "Anima Animus" (Sioux)
Having been fairly unimpressed by their recent Dublin gig, I was not expecting much from this CD. Boy, was I wrong. While the gig suffered, for me at least, from the "they didn't play 'Spellbound'" reaction (hey, it was half the Banshees onstage), a Creatures release will never be a Banshees reprise. In fact, this is one of the best things Siouxsie has done in a long time, banishing memories of inferior Banshees albums like "Hyaena" and "Superstition", and harks right back to classics like "Kaleidoscope". Her voice is raw and edgy, yet also perfectly controlled. For Budgie, this features what is arguably his best work ever - his rhythms are as prominent a part of the sound as the vocals and he is no longer constrained by the four-piece set-up of the Banshees. This is far more structured and accomplished than previous Creatures oddities.
The wild tribal beats of 'Turn it on' and the Caribbean cool of the steel drums on 'Take Mine' show how well the simple and primal combination of drums and voice can work when done properly. On other track, like '2nd Floor' and 'Say', a techno element is introduced in such a way as to throw Siouxsie's vocals into sharp relief. Never once is her vocal power swamped by pointless techno adornments. And her singing shows a diversity rarely before displayed on one single release. On 'Prettiest Thing', she is the stalking Amazon, dripping with venom, on 'Exterminating Angel', she is the dark medieval witch, frothing and snarling lines like "I wanna fuck it up" (justifying that "Queen of Goth" tag she hates so much). On 'Don't go to Sleep Without Me', she slips easily into a quiet, seductive trip-hoppy sound, echoing Liz Fraser's amazing work with Massive Attack.
This is a triumphant return for a true legend, and she's right to complain about the Goth tag. Even though she sometimes fits the bill, at others she is so much more. Siouxsie Sioux, along with a select few like Jarboe and Gitane Demone, does things on her own terms and it's virtually impossible to classify her as anything other than brilliant.
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The Dark Violence of Beauty - "At the Sign of the Pink Flamingo" (Tormented Kitten)
Gothabilly? That's what this crowd of Irish-Aussies call themselves. You're right, they're mad, but Australia has a long tradition of mad genius musicians in the dark side of music. There's Nick Cave, Mick Harvey … em … the rest of the Birthday Party … em … the Bad Seeds (Blixa Bargeld Australian? Maybe not). OK, maybe they're the first non-Nick Cave-related link in a rather short chain! Anyway, this is 13 tracks of inspired lunacy that smashes clichéd boxes, runs amok through genre barriers and sounds great.
The most important element is that the singer can sing, the musicians can play and this is one of the best sounding debuts in a long time. It's fun too, when was the last time you heard the word "Yee-haw!" in full-on Goth mode? Well, they're in here, on a mean, moody version of the folk song 'Ghostriders (in the sky)'. There's a jangly pop track 'Emmeline'; masses of emotive Goth stuff; a whiney indie-rock type thing that made me think of the Smiths, even though it sounds nothing like them. There's also a few playful take-offs of other people, like 'In Your Head', which features a very Ian "((Southern) Death) Cult" Astbury-esque whine, or 'Catherine Pt. 1' (what a goff name!), which features the bizarre sound of Valor (Christian Death) metamorphosing into Robert Smith (spooky!). Finally, there's a magnificent acoustic version of the Sisters' 'Something Fast' that puts Andy Eldritch to shame. This has everything - humour, intelligence, its tongue firmly implanted in its cheek - and it sounds fabulous.
(There, I wrote the whole review without once mentioning the fact that Rod Stewart plays guitar and sings on this … oops, I just did!)
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Rico - "Attack Me" (Chrysalis)
This is the first release from Rico, so it deserves to be cut some slack. Just what Chrysalis is doing signing a new indus-influenced act, when there are hoards of more experienced bands out there crying out for a decent deal, is another story. However, it would be unfair to blame Rico for taking advantage of an opportunity as it presented itself.
These three tracks are both a debut release and a teasing sample of the soon-to-be released debut album. Rico is firmly planted in the post-NIN era, playing grungy rock with more than a hint of industrial noise-niking. 'Attack Me' has quite the a bit in common with the other post-NIN success, like Bush, Stabbing Westward and Live - hard and heavy rock with a tight beat and a liberal use of distortion, loops and samples. 'Burst' is more industrial hip-hop, white boy style, mixing up Consolidated type sounds with the 'noisy young lad' attitude of EMF. Basically, it's re-treading the steps of past noisemakers like Gaye Bikers on Acid, Carter USM and Pop Will Eat Itself (whatever happened to cool band names like these?). Finally, there's 'Millennium Mutants', a very NI-esque indus dub piece, full of voice samples and containing quite a few of Trent Reznor's distorted sounds. In short, Rico is not at all original, all three tracks scream out where the ideas came from. However, Rico does have a young, fresh attitude that infuses the tracks, leaving you with the feeling that, even if you've heard it all before, he does do it pretty well. One to watch.
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Various - "Quadrophobia - A Pendragon Records Compilation" (Pendragon)
This sampler has 3 or 4 tracks by four of Pendragon Records' main acts:
Gridlock - 'Enzyme' is a fairly typical industrial soundscape thing with loads of shouting on top, not much different from a million other bands. 'Headache' and 'Sickness' are a big improvement, heavy dub tracks with some nice blippy techno effects and the short vocal samples mixed well in so that they form a full part of the sound, along the lines of 'Pure' by Godflesh. The Individual Totem reconstruction of 'Retina' would have been a tasty dub piece with some shit-heavy beats if not for the fact that too much of the roaring vocals were left in.
Neutronic - This is more like it. 'No Identifier' is a shit-heavy dance number, mixing rave with heavy electro-indus to get your booty moving. 'Megaton' goes even further into driving industrial dance to produce the kind of sound that would give your average raver a heart attack (an admirable quality). The Gridlock reconstruction of 'L.P. 1' sounds more like one of their own tracks. Not bad, but Neutronic's own mixes are better.
Individual Totem - 'Flow' is very sparse, a raw beat interspersed with some trancey soundscapes and a heavily distorted vocal. The 'Fortress A' mix of 'Flow' picks up the pace a bit, filling out the track and pulling out the very Germanic vocals to turn it into a very rave-influenced EBM-style track. The 'Turf Olymp' mix slows it down to a slow, blippy dark ambient dub, which is full of loops and slips in and out of a jungle beat. 'Lost in Station' is back to EBM, but isn't exactly a prime example of the style.
Velvet Acid Christ - The 'Aggro Trash' mix of 'the Hand' is a brutal and unrelenting assault on the senses, but manages to retain a driving dance feel through the distortion. The 'Cut Throat Psycho Rave' mix is, well, that should be fairly evident from the name. 'Killing Me' starts off as if its going to take off into a stream of increasing BPMs, when it confounds all expectations by chilling right out into a Darkwave-esque piece of brooding electro. A bizarre mix of styles that jars a little too much.
All in all, these four bands represent a large chunk of what's happening in alternative techno music, though the pick of the bunch has to be Neutronic.
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