The Psychedelic Furs, Fall (1980)

The_Psychedelic_Furs_cover

Artist: Psychedelic Furs
Title: Fall
Description: album track, The Psychedelic Furs
Label: CBS
Release date: 1980
First heard: 1980

If you look up the lyrics to this dusky, disturbing declaration of love online, you will find them – or a phonetic approximation of them – erroneously credited, due to the self-fulfilling prophecy of internet fact-sharing, to the songwriting team of Justin B**b*r (never type his demonic name into the internet as locusts will plague you), Mason Levy and Jason Lutrell. This is because the imploding imp had a song called Fall on his third album, which is a different Fall. These are some of his lyrics:

Well, let me tell you a story
About a girl and a boy
He fell in love with his best friend
When she’s around, he feels nothing but joy
But she was already broken, and it made her blind

Nothing terribly offensive about them, and he was 17 at the time, but I prefer Richard Butler’s take on the subject from what I sentimentally think of as the definitive song called Fall, written over 30 years earlier:

I am you and you are me
Tie me down, I will be free
Our love will never end
Parties for our stupid friends

There are more thematic links between my all-time favourite song by one of my all-time favourite bands and this song I’ve never heard and have no intention of ever willingly listening to than you might imagine. In “his” Fall, a boy feels happy about a girl, but she’s “broken”, and all is not quite as Jackie magazine as it appears. There’s a certain amount of angst beneath the bubblegum surface: “I know you got your wall wrapped all the way around your heart … but you can’t fly unless you let yourself fall.”

Back inside the fevered suburban mind of Butler, who was around 21 at the time, a fairytale wedding is regimentally evoked (“You will have a dress of white, you will have a ring of gold, you will have a paper snow”), but things soon darken: “You will have a sheet of red, paint the trees, the trees are dead.” I will have been 15 when I first sat in my bedroom and tried to work out what the hell Butler was singing in that deadpan glasspaper rasp amid all that distorted guitar and squawking saxophone across their eponymous debut. If the moral of the imp’s tale is “I will catch you if you fall,” its postpunk equivalent was, “We will be alone and we’ll fall.” One is heroic, the other fatalistic. I know which I prefer.

There were no lyric sheets with the Psychedelic Furs’ first two albums, the smokily atmospheric The Psychedelic Furs and the more ordered Talk Talk Talk; you had to work it out for yourself. And I relished that challenge. I could never get to the bottom of “You will have a paper snow”, no matter how many times I listened to it – and I listened to it constantly – or how firmly I pressed the headphones to my head. When I finally met and interviewed my louche hero Butler for the NME in what must have been 1991 for the World Outside LP, I asked him what the third line from Fall was, and he told me. (It obliquely refers to confetti, of course, but it doesn’t sound like he’s singing “snow”.) I’m not sure the words have ever been officially typed up, and maybe it’s best that way. (There’s a line in I Wanna Sleep With You on Talk Talk Talk that I’d always heard as “a vicious dog-eyed sheik”, which turned out, disappointingly, to be “a vicious dog and I shake.”)

The choice for toppermost Furs song was a battle fought long and bloody. I am to this day enthralled by the first album’s opening epic India, with its teasingly extended, cymbal-swooshed astral-interference intro and its hardline bass riff. Also, the urgent Wedding Song, which forms a thematic piece with Fall, and ironic list-song We Love You. From the second album, the clattering It Goes On, the heart-tugging All Of This And Nothing. Even the transatlantic albatross smash Pretty In Pink is a Trojan horse of R-rated content within a PG-13 package. There are less contenders on the third album, but President Gas still coruscates like a mission statement, ungratefully having a go at the America that had embraced them, and Love My Way scales heights, with Todd Rundgren on marimba! But I’ve fallen for Fall, as there’s nothing about the Psychedelic Furs that isn’t present and correct inside these berserk and lusty two minutes and 40 seconds.

Tim Butler’s pulsing bass and Vince Ely’s attack drums are in step; the combined guitars of Tim Ashton and Roger Morris fill the room; Richard Butler barks out his poisoned opinions on love and marriage as if testifying at Speakers’ Corner; and Duncan Kilburn’s sax cooks up a storm, marking the band out from the angular postpunk gaggle and making them so different, so appealing. (Kilburn left after the second album, but Rundgren took his part in the studio, as the Furs sans sax would not have been the Furs.) Steve Lilywhite produces the album, except where Ian Taylor, Howard Thompson and the band do. Fall is a Lilywhite joint. It remains definitive. It’s on everything but rollerskates. And when it’s just Ely and Butler, drums and vox, and it still mesmerises (“Marry me and be my wife, you can have me all your life, our love will never end”), it hits you like you’ve been shot by a diamond bullet right through your forehead. And you think, to borrow a speech written around the same time as the song: my God … the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that!

When asked who my favourite band is, I’ll unconsciously cite The Fall or the Wu-Tang Clan. But I have never stopped returning to the fountain of the Furs for sustenance, therein to drink of their diabolically hummable racket and to tick off Butler’s recurring images: coats, kisses, guns, paper, traffic, sleep, flowers, clothes, cars, colours, stupidity.

Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.

 

 

Bauhaus, In The Flat Field (1980)

Bauhausin-the-flat-field

Artist: Bauhaus
Title: In The Flat Field
Description: album track, In The Flat Field
Label: 4AD
Release date: 1980
First heard: 1980

Bliss it was in the early 80s to be alive, but to be in Northampton was very heaven. Bauhaus were our band. Formed in our town. Forged in our town, where so little else was forged in those dark days before Alan Carr, Matt Smith, Mark Haddon, Jo Wiley and Marc Warren. Even after they became pop stars in late 1982 with a cover of Ziggy Stardust and Pete Murphy did the Maxell tapes advert, you’d still see David J, Danny Ash and Kevin Haskins in the wine bar on Bridge Street. (Don’t look for it, it’s not there any more, although the area around it has been turned into the Cultural Quarter, which is nice.) Not that any of us Goths were uncool enough to stare, or approach these local heroes. It was enough that they were still in town, when they could be anywhere else, like Pete Murphy always was. We never saw him.

Not that any of us thought of ourselves as Goths. Nobody did in 1982. But we were. Like Bauhaus, we wore black, and netting, and makeup (I never went that far), and we wore our hair high and hard. It was a heady time. I was 15 when I went to my first gig – U2 supported by Altered Images at Northampton College of Further Education, and yes, Dad picked us up in the car afterwards – and in that same year, I saw Bauhaus play at Lings Forum, a gathering of the Northampton tribes, most of whom were more aromatic and Gothic and sexually provocative than me and my friends Pete and Craig. But it didn’t matter. We were there. We lived close enough to walk home. My Mum and Dad still live within view of Lings Forum.

Bands did not slot Northampton into their national tour itineraries in 1982; it was a rock desert and we had to make our own entertainment (we were all in bands). People in raincoats and leather jackets had to take coach trips to Leicester and Nottingham and London for that particular cerebral fix. But Bauhaus, some of whom did the same art foundation course at Nene College that I would subsequently enroll for, were already here. (Our art history teacher, filling us in on the actual 1920s German art school, made the devastatingly cool claim that he’d taught members of the band about it and thus helped give them their name.)

Not since the 1960s when Northampton Town FC ascended and descended the four divisions in near-successive seasons – “The real miracle of 1966,” according to Manchester City’s then-manager Joe Mercer – had our town even been on the map. So you can perhaps imagine our excitement at Bauhaus’s ascent to the top of the pop table.

The nine-minute debut Bela Lugosi’s Dead makes a solid claim to be their meisterwerk. It was a national anthem for much of my youth, and thrills me to this day with its depraved dub and Grand Guignol. But the five-minute title track of their debut album, which, fittingly, I borrowed from Northampton Record Library and taped, distills all of what made Bauhaus far more than just a cheap, powdered novelty. The drums are fast, tribal and spotless and keep time in deafening haste. The bass rubs your loins. The guitar makes a blackboard of your senses, then become a writhing bag of spiders.

It is a waking fever dream, Pete Murphy’s hallucinogenic imagery moves from cut-up mind games (“into the calm gaping we … Calm eye-flick shudder … of black matted lace of pregnant cows … my slender thin and lean”) to punk-rock ennui (“I get bored, I do get bored”). He sounds like a ravaged, consumptive marquis in search of ever more filthy kicks, from Piccadilly whores to whatever the holy fuck “filing cabinet hemispheres” were. I’d never heard of a “lumbar punch” but I knew it wasn’t good that he was up for one. Aged 16, the very utterance of “spunk-stained sheets” was X-rated. Sometimes, especially when you’re a teenager, you need your favourite band to be on another plane, in another place, on another planet. (Even when some of them are in your wine bar.)

In The Flat Field is at once apocalyptic and Edenic. A runaway rapture of Hammer horror and Kafka nightmare that lifts the humdrum listener to unimagined heights of fetid fantasy. “Assist me to walk away in sin”, Murphy intones. To quote a road safety advert of my childhood, he don’t need any help, does he?

The sleeve shrouded around this record is none more black. Within, the band are picked out only in shirtless, emaciated shadow. The low, guttural, metaphysical moaning that underpins the song’s protracted outro is a primordial sound that would recur in Bauhaus’s canon, as they first got darker, then became more music hall, then fell apart in dub. I salute it. This was music to pore over. To take apart. To unpick. To offer yourself up to. To raise a blackcurrant-coloured drink to, as you had borrowed your Mum’s Mini Metro, which was parked up by the Guidhall.

For a couple of years, there really was energy in Northampton.

The Sisters Of Mercy, Lucretia My Reflection (1988)

SistersFloodland

Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy
Title: Lucretia My Reflection
Description: single; album track, Floodland
Label: Merciful Release, Elektra
Release date: 1988
First heard: 1988

Hot metal and methedrine …

Having thoroughly enjoyed the lavishly tortured imperial grandeur of Showtime’s The Borgias via Sky Atlantic over three seasons, I am now hearing the name in the title of this pounding song as “Lucrezia” (with an Italianate “zz”). According to extensive research on Wikipedia, I have gathered that Andrew Eldritch wrote the song for his then-new collaborator Patricia Morrison in tribute to her similarities to Pope Alexander VI’s scheming daughter. He just spelled it wrong. Who cares? Lucretia is immortalised, and sits between Marian and Alice in Sisters Of Mercy lady-worship. (And Morrison didn’t play on Floodland. Again, who cares?)

Lavishly tortured imperial grandeur is the guiding light of the second incarnation of the Sisters after all that legal argy-bargy over the name, which Eldritch won, and although he clearly resents the idea that a more mainstream rock audience “discovered” the band via the expensive studio metalwork of Jim Steinman on This Corrosion (he didn’t work on Lucretia), it provided quite a spectacle, with a band, or brand, so rooted in the underground emerging via MTV onto the freeway and blinking in the light. I had fallen in love with the first incarnation during my provincial Goth phase in 1983, enchanted by those rattly early singles Anaconda and Temple Of Love. I saw the Sisters live at London’s Lyceum in the mid-decade and felt it a religious experience. (And when I say I saw them, I peered into a wall of dry ice for an hour and occasionally caught a glimpse of a human figure.)

By the time Floodland came out in 1988, I was old enough to have a) embraced all musical forms, including jazz, blues and Bob Dylan, although not yet opera*, and b) stowed any punk-rock snobbery about “selling out”. Thus, I applauded the Sisters Of Mercy’s brazen bridgehead into crossover. I remember seeing the darkly operatic** video for This Corrosion on ITV’s The Chart Show, with its inclement weather and Fester-and-Morticia double act. The album followed through, with a form of rock not really yet stamped by the latecoming American consensus as “industrial”, and no holds barred. The Wagnerian pomp that had driven the first album was turned up to eleven. This was big music. Unabashed. Sincere or ironic? Who can ever really know? I met Eldritch once, on 6 Music, and he unironically requested that the studio webcam be switched off as he wasn’t dressed in character; however, he struck me as a very wry and self-aware chap, so, again, who can ever really know?

I know in my bones that Lucretia, in its full eight-and-a-half minute flight, is a track to drive a tank to. It consolidates all the dreams and fantasies I entertained during my Goth years of death and horror and sex and power. I don’t really have those dreams and fantasies any more, but this songs still sounds magnificent. Eldritch gurgles, “I hear the roar of the big machine.” Yeah, mate, you’re making it. It’s your machine.

*I still haven’t embraced opera, unless you count Tommy.
**I know what “operatic” sounds like.