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It's perhaps difficult to appreciate 34 years later how groundbreaking and just plain weird this album sounded in 1980. The comparison with Bowie's Berlin albums is somewhat valid, but this album goes places that are very different. It was a mind-blower for me back then. The gated drum sound of "Intruder" became cliché later, but nobody had ever done that before. The drums are also played without cymbals, which contributes to the tense, claustrophobic feel of much of it. The guitars and background vocals (`Not One Of Us", for instance) are given treatments which were novel and also heighten the mood. I don't mean to say that the album all sounds the same - it certainly doesn't -but there is a flow to it. The cover describres the previaling mood. Even "Games Without Frontiers", with its silly lyrics and whistling, has unmistakeable dark undertones. Which isn't to say this album is downer by any means. It's a great album, just don't expect "Big Time" or anything like that! Lyrics have always been one of Gabriel's distinctive strong points, and here he is in top form. "Intruder" and "No Self Control" are downright spooky. "Lead a Normal Life" is a minimalist musical haiku which leaves you scratching your head about it's meaning. "Family Snapshot" is wild stuff! It starts out innocently enough, almost reminiscent of a Bruce Springsteen story song, but then takes are very sinister turn. It gets in the head of a political assassin who targets his victim just to make his mark on the world
As recently as 2013, Whipping Boy’s masterpiece, Heartworm, topped a poll of the best Irish albums of all time, conducted by Phantom FM, beating out competition from U2, Van Morrison and My Bloody Valentine. Heartworm’s status as Ireland’s Nevermind is still very much in tact. Arriving as it did it in the mid 90’s, Heartworm, fittingly, has a foot in both grunge and britpop: the tsunami of layered guitars, angst and aggression of the former mixed with the direct, instant and focused pop craft of the latter. Guitarist Paul Page and bassist Myles McDonnell built musical canvases that took the best from The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3 and Echo & The Bunnymen. Vocalist and lyricist Fearghal McKee wrote of an Ireland that seemed uncharted and uncovered, describing in terms befitting of an Irvine Welsh novel the seedy side of life in Dublin, crooning as he does in a Dublin accent. McKee’s lyrics, though dark and claustrophobic, have an inclusive strand that made fans feels part of a gang: ‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’ became a raison d’etre for the band and fans alike, while ‘When We Were Young’ meant to The Pope’s Children what The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ had meant to the generation before. If Heartworm is the sound of a band in transition, moving into the next dimension, it’s also the sound of a generation in transition between the early- 90’s hangover from the recession- stricken 80’s to the Celtic Tiger years, which really began in 1997, by which time the band had, sadly, imploded and run out of steam.
This long overdue reissue of one of Rough Trade's defining mid-'80s albums only serves to strengthen the argument that Microdisney's creative catalysts Cathal Coughlan and Sean O'Hagan were at the top of their game and remain two of Ireland's key songwriters. It's a shame no-one thought so back in the day - The Clock Comes Down The Stairs is a peach and should have furnished the band with an infinite supply of sex, drugs and the singer's Hampstead home - but that's another story, indeed another album. Lyrically descriptive, occasionally surreal, frequently darkly-humoured and musically anywhere but typically 'indie', TCCDTS is Microdisney's second album (after Everybody Is Fantastic) and a triumph from start to finish for all of the above superlatives. From the opening Horse Overboard (with the immortal lyric, "my wife is a horse...", sung with Coughlan's trademark Cork dialect), past the pin-sharp 'shoulda-been-a-massive-hit' single Birthday Girl to the album title-checking closer And, musical references include bar-room blues, sprightly jangly guitar-pop and downtempo kitchen-sink drama. Forget U2, Waterboys, Hothouse Flowers and other 'big' music from Ireland at the time, much of Microdisney's output stems from London and the North and cleverly marries easy-going music with character observation and social bite. For me, nothing surpasses what was the original closing song on side one.Are You Happy ? has a sad but erudite lyric and, at first listen, a straightforward enough hook-line. But it's the whole song that does it - dissection of its perfect 5 minutes, 29 seconds hardly does it justice. Look, just listen to the bugger. There's a line in it that goes "Streets shining morning/ whey-faced and shaken/the bus people argue/everyone sees you...". 'The bus people argue' - isn't that just the last thing you want to experience when life is being a pisser? Elsewhere, Genius is, well, genius and just about every other track could and should have filled up radio 1's schedules to the brim. Sadly, they didn't. John Peel was the exception to the rule - somewhat predictably, the band knocked out a few Peel Sessions, one of which is included here (from October 1984), alongside the two b-sides from the Birthday Girl 12". A far cry from the more mainstream but equally creative follow-up Crooked Mile and the material issued by the later confrontational post-Microdisney Coughlan vehicle Fatima Mansions, The Clock Comes Down The Stairs has aged well like a robust Irish single-malt with plenty to savour from the barrel in years to come.
The Boomtown Rats, came out of Ireland at the height of the punk and ‘new wave’ revolution of the late 1970’s and were often associated with that movement. In truth they were a little too polished and produced to fit comfortably in that Genre. The album spawned a number of huge hits including Rat Trap, Like Clockwork and She’s so modern. The album was a huge hit and for two years in 1978 & 1979 The Rats were the biggest selling band in the UK. The album was a collection of contradictions rolled up in glitzy package. The tunes lurched from punk to mainstream pop and in the spoken parts of Rat trap there was even an element of rap and hip-hop. Though melodic and tuneful Geldof’s grim and melodramatic reflections of urban life and poverty were reminiscent of early Springsteen. Geldof’s delivery is full of conviction and complex characterisation, his reflections of life in urban high rise blocks are not just an observation of urban life they are a call to action, a plea to rise up and break out of the ‘Rat trap’. The contradictions continue in ‘Me and Howard Hughes’ & in “I never loved Eva Braun”. In the former the bright happy tune hides the bleakness of the lyrics whilst In Eva Braun the teenage cooing of the line “Is she really going out with Adolf” disguises the content of the lyrics with its reflections on Hitlers relationship with Eva Braun. The album also touches on suicide, on teenage fantasies and schoolgirl crushes. As a piece the album holds together really well, the band are tight and skilful the arrangements are often complex and multi layered the album is dynamic, fun and durable. Above all it has stood the test of time.
The title that the Fatima Mansions originally had in mind for their second album was "Bugs F*cking Bunny," but the alternative rockers ended up going with the more marketable title Viva Dead Ponies. That's the only real compromise that was made with this CD -- both musically and lyrically, Viva Dead Ponies was among the more uncompromising releases of 1991. The Mansions' lyrics don't go out of their way to be accessible, and musically, the band isn't afraid to keep the listener guessing. Some of the songs are quite melodic (especially "The Door-to-Door Inspector," "Broken Radio #1," and "You're a Rose"), but on "Look What I Stole for Us, Darling" and the single "Blues for Ceausescu" (which reflects on the overthrow and execution of Romania's Stalinist dictator Nikolai Ceausescu), The Mansions make it clear that they aren't afraid to be blistering and highly abrasive. With The Mansions, you never know if you're going to get something as hauntingly melodic as "The Door-to-Door Inspector" or something metallic and industrial-influenced like "Look What I Stole for Us, Darling." Viva Dead Ponies isn't easy to absorb on the first listen, but after several listens, it becomes increasingly clear just how much this risk-taking effort has going for it.
It is a rare and welcome thing to encounter a group from Dublin who have not been artistically paralysed by the long shadows cast by U2. Unlike most of their lrish musical contemporaries, A House seem to have misspent their youth gazing across the lrish Sea towards the Northwest Frontier of Manchester and Liverpool, soaking up the rich vein of heavy, atmospheric pop emanating from such groups as the Echo and The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and New Order. A House have absorbed these influences on this strikingly confident debut LP, and channelled them into a potent and original sound. Aware of the beauty of brevity, these songs crackle with a manic energy and a raw, naked anger. From the scatterbrained folk punk of Violent Love to the sonic blast of Stone The Crows, Fergal Bunbury weaves a tangled web of carousing, rasping and colliding guitars, whilst singer David Couse's voice cruises through the carnage, dripping with the tarnished innocence of the defrocked chorister. The songs suggest that this house is not a happy one-the lyrics are pregnant with menace, grinding axes indiscriminately into the heads of Church, State, politicians and Stock, Aitken and Waterman.
If I were to ask you, really quick, to name five great alternative guitar-pop bands: yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. All of you are correct. But I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that none of you included Britain’s House of Love on your list, which is too bad. The Guy Chadwick (guitars, vocals)-led band, other than The Smiths and The Church, might just be the best of the lot, The House of Love formed in the mid-1980’s in London, and despite label and personnel problems, developed quite a following in Europe thanks to a shimmering guitar sound that even sometimes had a bit of a bite. After some infighting that led to lead guitarist Terry Bickers’ departure to form the underrated Levitation, Chadwick solidified his lineup (drummer Pete Evans, bassist Chris Groothuizen, and guitarist Simon Walker,) and set about creating a serious string of top-notch, near-perfect guitar-pop records (there are pretty much three debut albums, which were available depending upon which country you lived in, and their second “album” was an album of outtakes and alternate takes, a panic move by Fontana, their record label. Despite the confusion, Chadwick and company soldiered on, eventually releasing 1992’s Babe Rainbow, which pretty much defined the House of Love sound that began on (for some, at least) their 1990 Fontana self-titled initial offering (often referred to as “The Butterfly Album.”) Babe Rainbow is pretty much a near-perfect album (ok, there ain’t one single misstep on the entire record, other than that a few songs sound similar--yes, it’s that good.) Except that “You Don’t Understand” probably threw listeners that were used to perfect pop songs such as “Shine On” for a bit of a loop. Musically, it’s as aggressive as the band’s lyrically-brilliant “I Don’t Know Why I Love You,” although angrier, only with one of alternative music’s all-time great dance backbeats (the drums and bass are fantastic and are perfect for getting your dance groove on--how danceable? Even more so than The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?”) It’s every bit as perfect as “Shine On,” only amped up to the bejezus belt in terms of guitar-pop. It’s one of the great alternative tunes that you’ve likely never heard. Don’t worry, though, the band settled back into “beautiful shimmering guitar-pop” with “Crush Me,” a gorgeous mid-tempo tune that, as if the guitars weren’t enough, adds some lovely keyboards to keep things interesting. “Cruel,” meanwhile, while it sounds somewhat similar to “Crush Me” at times (other than the lack of keyboards,) is yet another perfect pop tune, building to a crashing crescendo full of loud guitars and some damn heavy drumming (and Chadwick has a very pleasant voice that tends to fit perfectly with the song at hand, all of which makes for some very listenable stuff.) “High in Your Face,” meanwhile, is very bass-heavy with soaring vocal harmonies and layers of subtle guitars that makes for a song that would fit on any House of Love album (if nothing else, these guys were hella-consistant.) “Burn Down the World,” on the other hand, is “dark” without actually being “dark” (credit Evans’ drumming, which sets the tone for the entire thing, and there are guitars coming in from all over the damn place, all of which perfectly fit the mood.) Like “Cruel,” this thing builds and builds, except there’s really no payoff, it just builds to a fittingly gloomy ending. And yet, thanks to the multi-layered guitar thing going on, shimmers almost as much as “Crush Me,” even if it sounds nothing like it. And “The Girl With the Loneliest Eyes” is a sad mid-tempo acoustic guitar-dominated ballad with a beautiful electric guitar section ( and just check out that very brief acoustic solo, which doesn’t overstay it’s welcome at all but maybe should have.) This is a guitar-heavy track and should be revered as such, despite it’s ballad-nature. I mentioned, earlier, The Smiths and The Church. The House of Love should have occupied the same stratosphere as those (in alternative circles) legendary acts. As it is, you can get Babe Rainbow and blow everyone’s minds with how good it actually is. If you dig alternative guitar-pop, this is one that your collection is sorely missing.