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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… The Sisters of Mercy, Floodland February 28, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., Uncategorized.
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Goth. Interesting, often absurd. Worse again on video. This isn’t to say I don’t have more than a passing acquaintance with its exponents. From The Bolshoi to Gene Loves Jezebel, Xymox to Lords of the New Church there’s more than a few albums in the genre that I know all too well. No recanting though. The good is good.

And this album, Floodland, the songs – as distinct from the videos, remains pretty darn good. Some will point to their first album, First and Last and Always, but at this remove that sounds tinny and underproduced. Even so, Marian (ripped off almost note for note by the Mission on Wasteland), Some Kind of Stranger and A Rock and A Hard place are classics of a kind.

The real purists though will recall earlier singles and EP collections, but they’re mostly unnecessary, barely differentiated from the sludge of post punk which Goth developed from. A thin guitar sound, layered over a pulsing bassline with equally thin vocals was what characterised them. Granted, the vocals were a bit deeper than was then currently fashionable – Bowie meets Ian Curtis and they get on just fine – but that was about it. Fast paced though. All unquestionably fast paced and with a faint electronic edge. And I admit to still enjoying Body and Soul or their version of The Stooges classic 1969.

But then all changed and utterly.

Vocalist Andrew Eldritch (natch) jettisoned guitarist Gary Marx (who went on to nearly but not quite Goth superstars Ghostdance – and released a not half bad solo album some years back consisting of tracks he wrote for Eldritch during the 1990s) and other guitarist Wayne Hussey who would found the Mission, and there was some unpleasantness over group names with, so it is said Hussey intending rather cheekily to start up a rival outfit entitled The Sisterhood, until Eldritch raced in with his own sort of kind of group which offered a sort of proto-techno, no surprise there given the line-up which included the briefly employed original drummer of Motorhead Lucas Fox and, so it is said, Alan Vega of Suicide. As a final joke – or perhaps making a virtue of necessity due to record company constraints – instead of singing himself Eldritch roped in James Ray, a man whose vocal style was – shall we say, similar. Extremely similar.

Jettisoning Marx wasn’t necessarily the greatest idea, He had his moments. Jettisoning Hussey, well now. One could complain that Eldritch unleashed Hussey onto an unsuspecting world and some measure of fleeting success – not entirely true, Hussey had been around since 1980 and played with Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls before going on to join Dead or Alive (by the by, as it happens in the days of Goth I saw the Mission twice, but that’s another story). But that would be the least of it.

That said in a display of good sense Eldritch also co-opted uber-Goth bassist Patricia Morrison of the Gun Club (later to become a member of the Damned and marry Dave Vanian) into the Sisterhood from where she joined TSOM on a full time basis (though there’s some dispute as to whether her bass parts were used in full or partially redone – all very Eldritch).

Sprinkle a scattering of mid-1980s pop production across it, somewhat similar in intent to the Psychedelic Furs Midnight to Midnight (whose John Ashton had produced an early EP) but… doomier. Throw in the odd short overwrought piano driven ballad and are we there yet?

Not quite. As a last grace note add some faux geo-political lyrics name checking the White House, the DDR and Red Square and possibly Chernobyl. What was it about? Who the fuck knew? But it sounded vast and cool and sort of clever without necessarily doing any of the heavy lifting required to actually be clever.

This was heavy rock for people who hated heavy rock. This was synth pop for people who hated synth pop. This was the Cold War as set to bass and synth and choirs and more choirs and even more choirs and transported to a stadium near you. This was…preposterous.

The singles, monstrous things really – accompanied by truly god awful videos where Eldritch, with his usual ghastly pallor only partially hidden behind 1960s aviator glasses, stick thin and angular, pirouetted (seriously) around sub-Mad Max studio sets and selected sites of interest in the former British Empire (India, Jordan, you get the picture) like some sort of demented faintly post-apocalyptic chancer channelled by way of then contemporary Berlin night clubs – were good. Actually they were great. The unleashed power of the earlier Temple of Love single, released by a previous incarnation of TSOM, reworked and ratcheted up to 10. Perhaps 11.

Two weeks back there was the New Romantic compilation, Modern Dance, in this slot, and there’s a weird similarity to my ears between Temptation by Heaven 17 and mid-period Sisters of Mercy. The massed choral vocals, the tricksy key and time changes.

But this should have come as little surprise for working in the background was one Jim Steinman whose oeuvre included the camper than camp enormity that was Meatloaf.

Naturally this is on many levels terrible stuff, one suspects barely a step away from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but entertainingly so. And… yet it’s sort of great, camp, bombastic and for the most part it is more considered than the image projected by the videos (Lucretia, My Reflection may just be the quintessential goth song, that funny mixture of post punk, taut energy and knowing narcissism). But, also in a way it’s a full stop.

Just as the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy effectively demonstrated the limits of indie (and I’ve always thought it telling that that last spark of guitar experimentation occurred during the rise of hip-hop, rap, dance and electronica in popularity, more than ready to sneak in where post punk and new wave was fading) so this represented (along with the aforementioned Midnight to Midnight from the Psychedelic Furs) the limits of the pop accessibility of this section of post-punk, at least on its own terms. If Goth got bigger it only did so by high-tailing it to other genres… most obviously metal – so a neat bit of foreshadowing by Mr. erm… Eldritch, though we’re all still living with the after-effects of that, what with nu-metal and emo having come and gone.

And little wonder too that TSOM only released one more studio album, the not entirely awful, but far from compelling, Vision Thing (the phrase a direct quote from George Bush the elder) which took much the same elements as Flood Land but this time layered them with a faux-metal sound. Problem was that for all his often-expressed love of Motorhead Eldritch apparently didn’t realise, or care, that it’s politic to throw in a few key changes, the odd hummable chorus and eschew using the same riff for the entirety of one song and then the next one. Now sure, he wanted to replicate Suicide or whoever, but truth is, it leaves the impression that for all the rhetoric he didn’t quite get metal (where by contrast the Cult – who arrived on a not dissimilar trajectory really did get it. Big time).

This was implausibly influential in a low key sort of a way. There’s a raft of groups which emulated TSOM more or less exactly. And with better or usually worse results. The Daughters of Bristol (you see what they did there?), The Merry Thoughts and on and on… It’s something of a micro-industry. And why not? What harm? But what point?

No wonder, that that was more or less it from Eldritch subsequently on the recording front (bar a nice reworking of Temple of Love with Ofra Haza c.1992). No original albums in twenty plus years, nothing but a series of live appearances with lashed together units whose impermanence of line up and lack of product points to a dynamic impermeable to ordinary musical enterprise.

Thing was after all this what more was left to be said?

Dominion/Mother Russia

This Corrosion

Lucretia, My Reflection

And from before:

Temple of Love

Sisterhood Giving Ground

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Comments»

1. B.Lodermeier - October 27, 2016

This was great article, thanks!

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