Friday, 22 January 2021

The CULT: Pure Cult: For Rockers, Ravers, Lovers, And Sinners

 


(#470: 13 February 1993, 1 week)

 

Track listing: She Sells Sanctuary/Fire Woman/Lil’ Devil/Spiritwalker/The Witch/Revolution/Wild Hearted Son/Love Removal Machine/Rain/Edie (Ciao Baby)/Heart Of Soul/Love/Wild Flower/Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles)/Resurrection Joe/Sun King/Sweet Soul Sister/Earth Mofo

 

The Cult – or Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy, who basically are the core of The Cult - are rock’s equivalent to Peter Glaze. What I mean by this is that if you recall the ancient British children’s television series Crackerjack – which ended around the time “Spiritwalker” was first released – then you will remember Mr Glaze’s determinedly cornball vaudevillian antics. As Danny Baker subsequently pointed out, however, what Glaze and his various assistants – you cannot call Don Maclean or Rod McLennan “straight men,” since Glaze himself was supposed to be the straight man, the feed – were doing was not retro-nuevo recreation or sardonic, in-inverted-commas postmodernist pastiche. Glaze came directly from the British music hall tradition – for many years he had served as an understudy to the Crazy Gang – and, by God, he MEANT it and had the necessary, meticulously-honed skills to express it. This was, as Baker was at pains to emphasise, the genuine article; see also why the Goons worked so well, since they emerged from the exact same tradition and background. There was no point sending up Sellers or Milligan or Secombe; they were music hall.

 

That’s how it is with The Cult. I remember when Ian Astbury was interviewed in Melody Maker at the time of the release of their second album, Love, where he modestly proposed that, hey, you know, that Led Zeppelin, they were actually pretty damn good, weren’t they? In what was still the immediate post-punk period, this was considered by some tantamount to blasphemy.

 

But Astbury spent most of the seventies growing up as a teenager in Hamilton, Ontario, attending Glendale Secondary School and discovering Iggy, Bowie and the New York Dolls, before relocating to, of all places, Glasgow, where he went to see Apocalypse Now – I wonder if he was in the same audience as my father and myself – and the film’s use of “The End” by The Doors did something to him (many years later, of course, he became Jim Morrison in a briefly-reconstituted Doors line-up).

 

The point here is that Astbury never laboured under assumed notions of what it was like to be “cool” or “hip.” He took and accepted everything he absorbed at face value. He really didn’t give a toss whether or not it was cool to like Zeppelin in 1985 – the general consensus at the time was that it still wasn’t – but felt that somebody had to say it.

 

By 1980 he had moved to Liverpool, and then to Bradford, where he put together the much-admired Southern Death Cult. Then in 1983 he ran into guitarist Billy Duffy – a childhood friend of Johnny Marr who had also worked in a pre-Smiths punk band with Morrissey (Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds) – and promptly threw in his lot with him and formed a new band which the two called simply Death Cult. In 1984 the band’s name was simplified to “The Cult,” and here is where the story told on the Pure Cult compilation begins.

 

The early songs like “Spiritwalker” and “Go West” clearly arise out of a Gothic backdrop – for a few years The Cult were, perhaps misleadingly, labelled a Goth band – although Duffy’s guitar flange techniques, though obviously taking up from where John McGeoch had left off with the Banshees, were something new (Duffy used a Gretsch White Falcon, about the least fashionable guitar you could get at that time). “Resurrection Joe,” a non-album single from Christmas 1984 (erroneously spelt “Ressurection Joe” on early pressings), got lost in the immediate post-Band Aid rush but did not pass unnoticed by me, and remains a magnificent piece of work, clearly signalling a way out from the Goth cul-de-sac towards a wider rock-based future.

 

Then, in 1985, “She Sells Sanctuary” gave the band both aesthetic and commercial breakthroughs. A stalwart student disco floorfiller almost from the moment of its release, it works its magic via the simple device of Duffy essentially using all of his guitar effects pedals at once (and the stinging swipes of acoustic guitar underscoring the song’s central riff is also key to the record’s success). The attendant album, Love, saw the band manfully trying not to reproduce “Sanctuary,” although both “Rain” and “Revolution” are best viewed as Satie-like alternative perspectives on the same artifact.

 

Their third album was due to be called Peace but the band were dissatisfied with it and went to New York to ask Rick Rubin to remix it. Rubin recommended that the entire album be re-recorded. The band’s then-record label huffed and puffed over budgetary overspends, but it was clearly the right thing to do since in the interim since Love, Zeppelin and rock of their ilk had become cool again, mainly thanks to Rubin’s work with Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys and Slayer.

 

The album was retitled Electric, and everyone with ears flipped immediately. The appearance of “Love Removal Machine” in early 1987 was a firm declaration of principles. It was as if the window to the stuffy bedroom of rock had been thrust wide open for the first time in a decade and all the “forbidden” pleasures and thrills had been allowed to burst back in. It was an expression of aesthetic liberation. This went beyond Joey Tempest and Europe’s arch reproduction of cock rock mannerisms. This was COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO ROCK, designed to wake people UP. The band were shameless and blameless and if you do not agree that “Love Removal Machine” was the best and most thrilling pop single of 1987 – as a manifesto it is up there with the JAMMs’ “All You Need Is Love” – then, frankly, you are fooling yourselves. It threw down its glam gauntlet and offered post-punk a grin of pure fuck-you-ness. Leather trousers and all.

 

Other songs from that album, including “Lil’ Devil” and the storming “Wild Flower,” proved that “Machine” was no fluke – even their take on “Born To Be Wild” is bearable (because who else was doing it in 1987?). It broke them big, and their next album, 1989’s Sonic Temple, recorded in (where else?) Vancouver under the watchful eye of Bob Rock, was similarly entertaining – and, in the case of the tender and palpably heartfelt ballad, “Edie (Ciao Baby)” – more than simply entertaining. Tracks like “Fire Woman,” “Sun King” and “Sweet Soul Sister” possess an unanswerable bravado and confidence, and once again confirmed that Astbury had – and has – one of the greatest yells in rock. As a singer, as a performer, he takes us into his confidence and makes us empathise. He knows just as much as we do how great this music is. With all due respect, they were, at this point, making fellow Bob Rock clients Bon Jovi sound like the Sooty-Braden Showband.

 

Things were not quite so settled for the band as the nineties dawned; Oliver Stone reportedly offered Astbury first refusal at playing Morrison in The Doors, and Astbury turned him down, unhappy with how the man was being portrayed in that film (and I’m afraid that he was quite correct in doing so). Longtime bassist Jamie Stewart quit, wishing to spend more time with his family. And, as with so many other rock acts of this period, Nevermind was suddenly making The Cult’s life difficult (ironically the first song on Love had been entitled “Nirvana”). Moreover, Astbury and Duffy had by then basically fallen out and hardly communicated with each other in the studio. 1991’s Ceremony got good reviews but commercially was a disappointment, and looked very unhip next to what was emanating from Seattle (there were also serious issues arising from the cover, which depicted a Native American boy, leading to legal action). Nonetheless it contains some of the band’s best and least acknowledged work, including “Wild Hearted Son,” “Heart Of Soul” and the spectacular closer to Pure Cult, “Earth Mofo,” their finest four-and-three-quarter minutes, wherein they seem to summon up all of their hitherto suppressed rock demons and release it in an enormous cavalcade of riffs, rhythms, noises and, ultimately, Astbury’s repeated “fuck you”s, as in, we’ve resuscitated rock ‘n’ roll, fuck you, hipster.

 

Astbury and Duffy had low expectations of Pure Cult at the time; they didn’t believe it would do much business, so presumably were delighted when it went double-platinum in the UK. Certainly, listening to the album anew for this blog was a particularly cheering experience, which in my view indicates their brave purpose. I don’t think The Cult really sound anything like Zeppelin; nor do I agree with Robert Christgau most of the time. Yet I would suggest that they sound quite close to an unspoiled Yorkshire (via Manchester and Canada) version of Aerosmith, much as Aerosmith sound like a more acceptable (to American ears, at least) Bostonian variant of Slade. For a parallel, I would suggest another band from the north-east of England whose career ran absolutely parallel to The Cult, though pursued very different paths and approaches, and who spent 1992 cheerfully attempting to destroy the singles chart. The Wedding Present! Does everyone think that looks, or sounds, daft? Crackerjack!!!!

 

(Author’s Note: the next Then Play Long update will appear on Tuesday 26 January. Monday is my birthday, and I will have better things to do then than writing a blog!)

Thursday, 21 January 2021

LITTLE ANGELS: Jam

 JAM by Little Angels on Amazon Music - Amazon.co.uk

(#469: 6 February 1993, 1 week)

 

Track listing: The Way That I Live/Too Much Too Young/Splendid Isolation/Soapbox/S.T.W./Don’t Confuse Sex With Love/Womankind/Eyes Wide Open/The Colour Of Love/I Was Not Wrong/Sail Away/Tired Of Waiting For You (So Tired)/S.T.W. (Reprise)

 

They came from Scarborough, did Little Angels, and their appearance in this tale is almost certainly due to canny marketing; Jam, their third album, was released early in 1993, in the absence of any real competition. It only remained on the chart for five weeks, and runs the risk of being the forgotten number one album of its decade. It may be also the most unfairly neglected.

 

The band’s trick – or, if you must, “punctum” – was to add a horn section (the “Big Bad Horns”) to their basic mainstream rock template. This works very appealingly, since the horns’ pointillistic punctuations enhance songs like “The Way That I Live” in a manner surprisingly similar to the Blur of “Popscene” or Rocket From The Crypt.

 

Had Jam been the fourth album by, say, the Wonder Stuff, or the debut album by, I don’t know, Dodgy, it would have been praised to the highest of heavens, and here Little Angels far outstrip either. “The Way That I Live” takes up the baton McCartney laid down with “Jet” and sprints with it, enhancing the song’s standard “I ain't cut out for no suit and no tie” protests quite magnificently. More importantly, lead singer and guitarist Toby Jepson sounds so damned exuberant, so happy to be in front of a microphone and recording these songs, and the rest of the band go with him all of the way.

 

“Too Much Too Young,” in which a visiting Bryan Adams helps out on backing vocals – though recorded in London and Farnham, the album was mixed in Vancouver – is terrific, catchy – and subtly anti-capitalist - pop-rock which trounces the “rock” work of Primal Scream. Even when the band slows down, for instance on “Splendid Isolation,” they deploy plenty of little sonic tactics and offhand structural mannerisms to keep one listening. “Don’t Confuse Sex With Love” is good junior school Faces, even having the glorious nerve to finish with a sample from the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace” (hence inadvertently linking this record to entry #471).


“Womankind” is something more than satisfactory; a great, great and very generous pop song highly worthy of the aforementioned McCartney, beginning with a reminder of the stumbling ennui familiar to White Album and Abbey Road listeners before soaring towards what is really a heartbreaking catharsis. This should have been number one for months, and with its recurring leitmotif of “Everyday I love you more,” I wonder if the young Kaiser Chiefs were listening.

 

On the profoundly resigned “Sail Away,” I am simultaneously reminded of James Dean Bradfield and Glenn Tillbrook. Elsewhere, “I Was Not Wrong” does E-Street boogie almost as well as the sans-Bruce E-Street Band. The album is able to incorporate the frontman of It Bites and half of the Attractions (spot them if you can find them) without undue imbalance. Most astounding, however, is their shockingly apocalyptic, and climactic, demolition of “Tired Of Waiting For You,” which steadily atomises into impure noise.

 

Despite touring as support to both Van Halen and Bon Jovi, and despite a steady following, Little Angels never replicated the success of Jam – their fourth album, 1994’s A Little Of The Past, stopped at #20, and they split shortly thereafter before drifting into various interesting subsequent careers with periodic reunions. Nevertheless, Jam is a rather terrific pop album which should be coaxed from the cocoon of neglect, since in a kinder climate it should and would have been a multimillion-seller.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

GENESIS: The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs

 


(#468: 23 January 1993, 2 weeks)

 

Track listing: Old Medley (Dance On A Volcano/The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway/The Musical Box/Firth Of Fifth/I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe])/Driving The Last Spike/Domino (Part I – In The Glow Of The Night/Part II – The Last Domino)/Fading Lights/Home By The Sea-Second Home By The Sea/Drum Duet

 

This Sunday just past, Radio 4 Extra reran David Baddiel’s Desert Island Discs from May 2018. One of his musical choices was by Genesis, and it was not an obvious choice either – “Mad Man Moon” from 1975’s A Trick Of The Tail. He rhapsodised, with some practised embarrassment, about how much he loved Genesis as a boy in the mid-seventies. Now David Baddiel, give or take four months, is the same age as me, and while one might, with the smugness afforded by hindsight, observe that he should really have known better even then, I found that I still knew the song, chord change-by-chord change,word-by-word, and that wasn’t simply because Colin McDonald played it on Radio Clyde’s progressive rock show of the time, Son Of Baroque And Roll; it was remembering that, damn, despite my practised hipness, I actually did like and listen to them at the time, even (or especially) after Peter Gabriel had left the band to go solo (Fluff Freeman played a lot of Gabriel-era Genesis on his afternoon Saturday Rock Show on Radio 1; “Supper’s Ready” received regular outings and was quite the thing to experience on headphones while travelling on a Park’s of Hamilton coach to Blackpool).

 

My school pal Andrew Austin – hi, Andy, if you’re still out there – absolutely loved Genesis, and as a consequence I became very familiar with their 1977 double live album Seconds Out, which again I enjoyed more than I was perhaps supposed to do; then again, Phil Collins, Chester Thompson AND Bill Bruford, all on the drums? This is jazz, dummy!

 

But that was also the school which I attended during the second half of the seventies, access to which had been gained via a disguised eleven-plus examination which we were all given to sit at primary school. With abrupt, cold rationalism, we children of a highly impressionable age were ruthlessly divided into A, B and C streams, purely on the basis of our ability to, essentially, regurgitate information (as opposed to processing it). Along with this came an inbuilt, inherited snobbery. The A classes were tailored for those supposedly destined to run things. The B classes were for office or factory fodder. The C classes were perhaps beyond hope.

 

Such a situation necessarily dictated one’s social musical tastes. Genesis were deemed “intelligent” music – conservative with a small “c” and modestly exploratory rather than really radical – to which kids with brains listened (see also Supertramp and the Moody Blues; if you rocked, it would have been to Status Quo or Thin Lizzy). That punk rock? Why, it was trash for the thickoes in the B stream. This is how uncertain young people, still forming themselves as sentient human beings, get fucked up at far too early an age.

 

Punk, of course, did not abolish Genesis – quite the reverse – but the band’s appeal, I would speculate, lies in satisfying the needs of anxious young or middle-aged conservatives, averagely solvent but worried about too many (and mostly the wrong) things. By attaching themselves to the band’s music, they remain able to point to themselves as separate from the “masses,” that they are still a draw above what they benignly view as the common herd. This perspective was supported by the band’s incrementally increasing musical conservatism as they shrunk to a trio and prepared to enter the eighties.

 

There was, naturally, a Volume One of this souvenir of the band’s We Can’t Dance tour, and of course it was entitled The Shorts (all hits, none older than 1983, with an average running time of some five-and-a-half minutes); it was released in November 1992 and peaked at number three. The Longs followed, and while Phil Collins’ reluctance to engage in long prog rock workouts by this point is well-documented, the band presumably still felt that they owed it to their stalwart fans of old, who had stood by them in their duffel coats at soaking-wet festivals in the early seventies when the band had not two bob to rub together between them, etc., etc.

 

Even here, the only material predating 1983 (unless you count the tangential relationship which 1975’s “Ripples” enjoys with “Fading Lights”) is all bundled up in the opening “Old Medley,” which unsurprisingly provides most of the most satisfying and intriguing musical moments to be found here, even though performing the old songs without Gabriel or Steve Hackett seems to me to be missing a key point. As if to rub this in, the climactic “I Know What I Like” is punctuated by a number of quotes from their post-Gabriel hits, including “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien” and 1978’s “Follow You, Follow Me,” while Collins repeatedly proclaims to the audience that “it’s your show…your show.”

 

Elsewhere I struggle to glean the purpose. In fairness, the two setpieces from We Can’t Dance (“Driving The Last Spike” and “Fading Lights”) are handled in a rather livelier and more purposeful manner than the studio originals. I kept listening and didn’t fall asleep, though did conclude at the end of “Last Spike” that they sounded like a pretty decent Marillion tribute act. The trouble is, the storyline of “Last Spike” notwithstanding, there is little to hold onto with latterday long-form Genesis; “what are they trying to say or communicate?” is the primary question, and since Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks are not improvisers of any meaningful kind, there is little space for fluidity, interaction or development. Collins does vocally sound very angry in places – but, again, what is the cause of his anger?

 

Furthermore, I am unsure that separating the pop from the prog so squarely affords a realistic understanding of how Genesis as a band work on stage. One could be listening to two entirely different groups with little to connect them; a 2-CD set incorporating both, in concert order, would have been welcome. Nowhere on the sleeve does it even say where these performances were recorded – for the record, they were all performed at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, Germany, in early July 1992 – and of touring guitarist Daryl Steurmer there is only a blurred photograph of his silhouette (and no actual credit), while Chester Thompson, who was largely there to do most of the actual drumming, thus allowing Collins to come to the front of the stage and sing, is given a similarly indistinct photograph and is only mentioned in passing as co-author of the record’s bizarre closer, “Drum Duet,” in which he and Collins amiably swap Sandy Nelson fills for six minutes or so (actually this sequence constitutes, by some distance, the album’s most interesting music). I’m not sure even David Baddiel would have been especially convinced by The Longs, and indeed the group in that form did not tour again; in March 1996, Collins bailed out of Genesis to concentrate on his solo career (with which latter Then Play Long is far from finished). A strange beginning to a rather strange 1993.