Andy Bell – Electric Blue (Sanctuary album, 2005)

Andy Bell 'Electric Blue' artwork

sanctuary records | san382 | 03/10/2005

Andy Bell‘s debut solo album was produced with Manhattan Clique (Philip Larsen and Chris Smith), who had remixed tracks from Erasure‘s Other People’s Songs and who supported the duo on that album’s tour. That Electric Blue ever got released is something of a surprise – Andy had said in an interview I heard years ago that every time he was asked to do something solo he would panic and invite Vince Clarke along to help (I think he was specifically talking about ‘Rage’, which turned out to be an Erasure collaboration with Lene Lovich for PETA). Other People’s Songs itself apparently started life as an Andy solo project of cover versions, but became a standout Erasure album instead. Electric Blue was released on Sanctuary; presumably the EMI-backed Mute balked at the idea of a solo project from an artist they didn’t deem bankable, despite Bell’s twenty-year tenure with Daniel Miller‘s label.

The principal problem with Electric Blue is that it’s about four tracks too long, giving rise to some torrid filler like ‘Shaking My Soul’ and ‘Delicious’. At times there’s a sense of Andy Bell operating outside of his comfort zone, which is fine, but the results seem to have a reliance on fluffy, inconsequential lyrics on some of the more upbeat tracks. A long time ago, I remember Bell being interviewed on TV and saying how much he admired the way a track like Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ deliberately avoided substance in its lyrics; well, some of the results here are definitely throwaway, but in Bell’s case it’s not necessarily the best example of his lyric writing by a long stretch, though the genre he was operating in here – music for dancing in neon-lit Soho clubs I guess – wouldn’t necessarily tend toward lyrical depth particularly.

After a brief introduction consisting of vocal loops and building synths like clouds gathering on a sunny day, Electric Blue kicks into gear with ‘Caught In A Spin’, a Latin-house sequence of odd couplets and throwaway lines, flamenco flourishes and a chorus spiced with something dark and dangerous, a bit like dancing on a hot summer’s night. One of the best of the upbeat tracks here, ‘Caught In A Spin’ is relentless, urgent and hypnotic. Another of the best songs here is the title track, which includes some very Vince synths, dark, murmuring bass line and detuned beat. Andy here goes for robotic singing about S&M gear and buying uniforms, delivering a pre-chorus that references dancing to ‘Supernature’ (which Erasure covered) and opts for a darkly euphoric chorus which straddles a high energy style with more elastic techno sounds. ‘See The Lights Go Out’ also includes lots of nice electronic noises that Vince would approve of, and actually is not dissimilar to something Erasure would produce today. The track includes a retro disco element to the rhythm and Andy’s vocals have a pained, anguished element which gives the song some welcome depth.

Electric Blue features collaborations with Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken (‘Love Oneself’ and ‘Delicious’) and head Scissor Sister Jake Shears (‘Thought It Was You’ and ‘Shaking My Soul’). ‘Love Oneself’, despite its dubious, onanistic title finds Brücken’s breathy vocal totally dominating proceedings, almost rendering Bell surplus to requirements, a bit like the person who sets up a threesome and finds himself on the sidelines of the bedroom. Fortunately, the music – high energy sounds with a rolling bassline, 303-esque synth ripples and whooshing noises – is interesting enough. The second Brücken collaboration, ‘Delicious’, features some nice Vince-style synths but falls short in the lyrics department; Bell and Brücken deliver a stream of bland clichés that make for a pretty dull song overall. The only saving grace is a riff that reminds me of that Alex Party track from years ago which in turn reminds me of some good nights out. Otherwise ‘Delicious’ is reasonably needless.

If the tracks with Brücken were patchy, the collaborations with Jake Shears are still harder to listen to. ‘Thought It Was You’, something of a battle of the falsettos, is a very Seventies disco number, straight out of Ian Schrager’s Studio 54. The song is very classically disco, with lots of handclaps and wah-wah guitar, but something about Shears’ vocal is ridiculous and way too high, much like pretty much everything Scissor Sisters have ever done. Meanwhile, on ‘Shaking My Soul’ you’d be forgiven for missing Shears’ contribution to this upbeat, soulful but generally throwaway piece of summery pop since it’s all but inaudible. The track features lyrics dealing with jealousy and promiscuity, a theme that is also mined on the far better ‘Jealous’.

The album includes a couple of ballads, both of which are good even if they sit somewhat uncomfortably next to the more upbeat dance tracks. ‘Fantasy’ is a plaintive, Erasure-esque ballad, with lots of jangly acoustic guitar, a big trademark chorus and more articulate lyrics from Andy. There’s a soulful piano and string section that sounds a little like a Barry White ballad; there are also occasional Latin flourishes and plenty of trademark ‘woahs’ from Andy, while a melodic line not dissimilar from ‘Rock Me Gently’ sometimes creeps in. The album’s closer, ‘The Rest Of Our Lives’ is another big ballad, being a gentle love song and a typically Erasure-esque closer, at least lyrically. Musically it’s not a patch on anything Vince and Andy could achieve together, being a bit wet and flimsy (the last two bars are the most interesting). Still, it nevertheless retains a nice, emotional dimension even if it sounds too ‘organic’ and traditional-sounding for Andy’s vocal. The ballads, oddly placed though they might be, perhaps suggests this is what Andy is best at rather than flogging the disco horse elsewhere on Electric Blue.

Electric Blue was clearly a departure for Andy Bell, a brave move after years as Erasure’s frontman, and any issues with the songs generally stem from the production which doesn’t stand up terribly well today. Mercifully, Bell was undeterred by Electric Blue‘s limited commercial success, with 2010’s Non-Stop with Pascal Gabriel being a much more solid, accomplished business.

First published 2005; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

ANBB – Ret Marut Handshake (Raster-Noton EP, 2010)

ANBB 'Ret Marut Handshake' artwork

raster-noton | r-n 120 | 21/06/2010

ANBB is a collaboration between Alva Noto (electronic musician and artist Carsten Nicolai, head of the Raster-Noton imprint and one half of Diamond Version) and Blixa Bargeld. Bargeld is the stimmung of cult Berlin noise-merchants Einstürzende Neubauten who has recently developed processed spoken-word performances (‘rede‘) into his repertoire alongside his day job fashioning unexpected sounds from guitars and detritus in Neubaten. Nicolai on the other hand is the poster boy for glitch-based electronics, notable for works based on ‘forced error’. Before Diamond Version, Nicolai’s collaboration with Byetone, Mute and Raster-Noton collaborated on the Short Circuit festival in 2011; back in 2010 though, ANBB could perhaps be seen as an early precursor to greater engagement between the two labels, even though Bargeld has all but severed ties with his former label home.

The combination of two mavericks on the Ret Marut Handshake EP finds Bargeld’s voice surprisingly suited to Nicolai’s cracked electronics, serving as a tantalising taster of the full-length album which this ultimately supported, Mimikry. This mini-album / EP is named after Ret Marut, a shady, chameleon figure (actor, writer, activist and a pseudonym of the author B. Traven) that Bargeld found intriguing from his childhood years onward.

Neubauten releases over the years have made it their business to explore found sounds and sounds conjured from industrial equipment; Bargeld’s guitar was never played so much as abused on early releases and drum kits were constructed from nothing quite so pedestrian as actual drums. Later releases added strings and sensitivity, finding beauty in detritus. But generally, electronics didn’t feature, were almost eschewed, making Neubauten releases all the more appealing for their relatively ‘organic’ development. Imagining Bargeld intoning his wonderfully expressive words over a bed of electronic sounds wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but I was nevertheless intrigued by this collaboration.

In an interview with The Wire, Bargeld explained how Nicolai’s approach initially baffled him. The fifth track on the release ‘I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground’ (a cover of the traditional American folk song) found Bargeld needing to explain the chords to the piece which Nicolai then had to translate into frequencies for them to make sense in his idiosyncratic soundworld. That track is playful, and possibly just a bit of fun, finding Blixa getting all shaky and rock ‘n’ roll while a muted palette of bassy tones and scratchy beats occupies the background. Something about this screams that Bargeld possibly wasn’t even aware of being recorded, as it has the feel of him musing away to himself throughout. The EP also includes a version of Harry Nilsson’s tender ‘One’. ‘One is the loneliest number that you ever know,‘ sings Bargeld on this fragile ballad, his voice taking on a warmth and mournful quality while a gentle web of echoing tones, speaking clock pulses and sketchy non-beats heighten the muted atmosphere. Rarely has a clash between two collaborators from different oeuvres been so stark, and the results so good.

Anyone remotely familiar with Nicolai’s soundworld will be familiar with the fractured, detuned beats, clicks and hisses that characterise his rhythms, those off-centre beats being combined with minimal synth tones, melodic clusters and drones. The sonic tapestry provides the backdrop to Bargeld’s distorted vocal, which veers from half-sung intonations to semi-rapped stream-of-conscious slews of words, everyone single sibilant utterance and word pronounced with a consideration every bit as calculated as Nicolai’s soundworld. At times Bargeld’s words are chopped, spliced and layered, as on the opening title track of the EP. ‘Electricity Is Fiction’ is like a more or less conventional electro track just with a more skittish beat, Bargeld delivering a lecture on what electricity is; a bit like Kraftwerk‘s ‘Radioactivity’ subjected to a high voltage current, whereupon their considered, clean electronics become wildly out of control. The darkest piece here, ‘Bernsteinzimmer’ is a dark, noirish soundtrack-style piece. Buzzing drones, violin sounds and thudding bass drum, give this a bleak cinematic feel; clipped, whispered sibilant vocals in the background and Blixa delivering a stately, towering vocal performance.

First published 2012; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Alan Burnham – Music To Save The World By (Cherry Red single, 1981)

Alan Burnham 'Music To Save The World By' artwork

cherry red | cherry15 | 16/01/1981

Alan Burnham’s ‘Music To Save The World By’ was released by indie stalwart Cherry Red in 1981. As well as being something of an electropop obscurity, its interest to Mute fans is that it was produced by Daniel Miller and engineered by early Mute studio guy, Assembly member and Blackwing Studio owner Eric Radcliffe. The two tracks on this solitary release from Burnham were recorded at Blackwing, Mute’s studio basecamp for a good few years, which was based in All Hallows Church in South London. Hold on, apologies… I called this an electropop track didn’t I? Apparently we call that minimal wave these days, proof yet again that I’m not down with the kids these days at all.

Around this time, Miller was to be found producing the odd track here and there for non-Mute acts like Soft Cell, Missing Scientists and Alex Fergusson. I like to think that it was for aesthetic reasons or to help promote his nascent label, but the reality it was probably to make ends meet. Until Depeche Mode signed to Mute, the label nursed a small roster of acts and one-off singles that were unlikely to make Miller much money, so picking up the odd production job might well have helped pay some of the bills.

Could synth music save the world? Somewhat unlikely, but Alan Burnham’s single suggests it could. His vocal has a subtle, whispered quality that sits somewhere between completely captivated and slightly saddened, as if the observations catalogued on the lead track both intrigued and depressed him. Around his quiet delivery is wrapped a backdrop of ponderous bass synths, atmospheric whooshes and echoing bleeps that recall satellite signals being broadcast into space. In a blind listening test you might consider ‘Music To Save The World By’ to be a very early I Start Counting track. With distinct echoes of Miller and Radcliffe’s later work, this is a Mute record in all but name, aiming toward the radio-friendly pop that early Depeche Mode and later Yazoo would call their own, mixed in with a sci-fi sensibility that had inevitably surrounded music made with synths the decade before.

B-side ‘Science Fiction’ continues the spacey vibe with an enquiring bassline that gently nudges its way through the track. Hissing synths, bleeping melodies and live drums from Cam Findlay give this a more organic feel than ‘Music To Save The World By’, a throwback to a slightly proggier vibe with vaguely apocalyptic portents of a technologically-driven life on the horizon in Burnham’s lyrics. ‘Are we living at all?’ asks Burnham of a populous living in fibreglass domes. Maybe he hoped synth music would save us from that fate rather than being a contributing factor to the decline of mankind.

First published 2013; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

AK-47 – Stop! Dance! (Output Records single, 1981)

AK-47 'Stop! Dance!' artwork

output records | opr202 | 1981

AK-47 was the work of Simon Leonard; ‘Stop! Dance!’ was released a year before Leonard met David Baker, his future musical accomplice in I Start Counting, Fortran 5 and Komputer, at Middlesex University, and two years after his solitary 7″ with File Under Pop on Rough Trade.

Unlike the industrial noise claustrophobia of FUP’s ‘Heathrow’, ‘Stop! Dance!’ is a bouncy little synthpop track which is very 1981 (in a good way), albeit with a dark edge thanks to the vocodered vocals which seem to be lots of references to AK-47, which, in case a whole generation of computer games and action movies has passed you by, is a gun. Naming your musical alias after a weapon and then delivering fey pop music is just about as contradictory as anything else Leonard has done in his musical career I guess. ‘Stop! Dance!’ is all simple, persistent drum patterns, stalking single-key basslines and bubbling sounds and sweeps blended in over the top, while a chord change brings in a brief, wobbly and quite pleasant melody.

‘Autobiography’, the first of two tracks on the B-side, is a short instrumental featuring a sawing synth sound, tick-tock beat, some Kraftwerk-esque vocal loops, reedy melodies and Leonard intoning a brief couplet about waking up and getting on a freight train, as if the autobiographical element was some deep southern porch blues number. ‘Hilversum AO’, another instrumental, has a euphoric quality, even if there are a few dud notes in among its elegiac melodies.

There’s nothing exceptionally polished about these three tracks, unlike the comparatively gleaming work Daniel Miller and Depeche Mode would put out the same year on Speak & Spell; like ‘Heathrow’ it retains a firmly experimental dimension, only here that edge is delivered through synths rather than grainy field recordings. Quite aside from its collector status among I Start Counting / Fortran 5 / Komputer fans, this is an example of an alternative electropop and bagging a copy on 7″ would have set you back near enough GBP50.00 at the time this was first uploaded.

First published 2011; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Afghan Whigs – Up In It (Sub Pop album, 1990)

The Afghan Whigs 'Up In It' artwork

sub pop | sp60b | 1990

Released on the seminal Seattle-based Sub Pop in 1990, this was the first Afghan Whigs album proper – the future Blast First band’s ‘real’ first, Big Top Halloween, was released in a limited edition of 2000 in 1988, and three tracks from that debut are included here. Sub Pop’s quest to sign the Whigs caused not inconsiderable consternation among the likes of Mudhoney, arguably Sub Pop’s second most famous band, prompting their leader Mark Arm to start shopping the band around majors. His action was understandable given that Sub Pop were struggling to pay Mudhoney’s royalties, yet they were throwing money at the Whigs to get them to sign – a classic indie faux pas and one that Sub Pop certainly made more than once. In the end, the Whigs signed with Pavitt and Poneman, while Mudhoney defected to Reprise, just after Nirvana – Sub Pop’s most famous band – had signed with Geffen on Sonic Youth‘s advice.

With the exception of the three tracks from Big Top Halloween and the album’s final track, Up In It was produced by Jack Endino, unintentionally Sub Pop’s ‘in house’ producer in much the same way as Steve Albini / Butch Vig at Touch & Go, Martin Hannett with Factory or even Flood / Gareth Jones / Paul ‘PK’ Kendall at Mute, only considerably more prolific – Endino recorded 75 singles, EPs and albums for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Among these was Nirvana’s debut Bleach, but there is little point of reference between Up In It‘s broad-brush rock appeal and Bleach‘s raw tone. Endino pulls off a sequence of recordings that is simultaneously highly polished and frighteningly urgent. It’s generations removed from their later work, and light years away from vocalist, guitarist and perfect front man Greg Dulli‘s later band, The Twilight Singers. The Whigs here comprised John Curley (bass), Rick McCollum (guitar), Greg Dulli (guitar, vocals) and Steve Earle (drums).

Up In It kicks off with the frenetic ‘Retarded’, which is perhaps the closest this album gets to the grunge sound that Sub Pop and Endino were famed for. Discordant guitars – similar to a Thurston Moore / Lee Ranaldo jam – and gritty vocals ensure that the album steps out on the right foot. Wah-wah guitar (and some additional guitar work that sounds dubiously like ‘Eye Of The Tiger’) ushers in ‘White Trash Party’, a swirling hurricane of howled vocals, grinding guitars and urgent cymbal-playing. ‘Hated’ on the other hand is an emotional melodic song that prove the Whigs were capable of producing sentimental music even at this early stage, even if the dueling guitars and turgid bass owe more at this stage to metal than soul.

‘Southpaw’ has an excellent groove and very muscular drumming, approximately a heavy dirge that manages to blend ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, Pixies and even the shrill vocal of Axl Rose, to surprisingly good effect. At under two minutes, ‘Amphetamines And Coffee’ sees the band tearing into a metal-influenced riff with some fretwork that J. Mascis would appreciate and stop-start drumming that would be captivating to watch. ‘Hey Cuz’ has a really clever sound, with Blixa Bargeld-esque spindly guitar cycles and a snare-dominated backbone, all of which breaks down into a very free and unstructured jam during which Dulli frantically crams words and vocal sounds into seemingly the smallest of spaces. With a great, melodic bass line and descending guitar melody (and tightly-controlled feedback), ‘You My Flower’ is another impassioned, powerfully-sensual rock song, finding Greg offering a tender vocal on the verses before growling his way through the chorus. Appropriately, ‘Son Of The South’ is a heavy blues number, which Jon Spencer would presumably be very proud of, and is certainly one of the best songs here; Endino pushes the bass section right up, and Dulli delivers an arch vocal on the verses over little more than the bass and drums before the howling guitars force themselves back in. ‘I Know Your Little Secret’ is nothing short of an emotive masterstroke, where rage is replaced with bitter melancholy.

‘Big Top Halloween’, ‘Sammy’ and ‘In My Town’ are all taken from the Whigs’ self-released debut, and are much rawer cuts, just a shade above demo standard in the production stakes; they do, however prove how honed the band were, even in 1988. The tracks were produced by Wayne Hartman. ‘Big Top Halloween’ is a classic heavy indie track, finding Greg in places providing a genetic link to White Stripes’ Jack White, while the band manage to sound like Dinosaur Jr. and Guns n’ Roses in the same three and a half minutes. Beginning with a melodic, elastic bassline, ‘Sammy’ is a heartfelt, lo-fi track with a killer sing-a-long chorus and lyrics that seem to blend genders at will, also deploying a fine harmonica solo. ‘In My Town’ is a melodic, jangly guitar track not wholly dissimilar to James circa Laid, with a definite folk / country sound. Back to 1989 for closing track ‘I Am The Sticks’ (produced by Paul Mahern), a muscular rocker with some very Rowland S. Howard guitar melodies, over which Dulli supplies a typical tonsil-shredding vocal performance. It’s a mysterious and sonically-adventurous conclusion to a gripping album. Not a dud track here.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson: Documentary Evidence Interview (2004)

That Old Jazz Devil Called Love: The Barry Adamson interview

Barry Adamson

I completed this email interview with Barry Adamson back in 2004, just after he’d left Mute, released a new rough track called ‘Harlem’ as a free download, performed with Russell Maliphant at The Barbican and was experimenting with making music on Macs. It was only just over ten years ago, but releasing music as a download was still something pretty new, hence his comments on the ‘political’ nature of releasing music this way. Back in 2004 I was still pretty new to conducting interviews, hence why this appears as a question and answer-style feature.

Former Magazine bassist Barry Adamson was for over ten years the very essence of the quintessential Mute Records artist – eclectic, prolific and highly popular, just thankfully never a chart act. His work traversed many, many musical boundaries and genres from soul to hip-hop through to noir film scores. Parallel work as a remixer saw him reconfigure tracks by Recoil, The Wolfgang Press and Nitzer Ebb, drawing on his considerable skills as a sound designer. His work has received plaudits from the likes of Portishead and Nine Inch NailsTrent Reznor, who picked Adamson to provide tracks for his Natural Born Killers soundtrack. Barry left Mute in 2003, and Mat Smith caught up with him the following year for a few questions.

MAT SMITH: I’ve just visited Manchester for the first time. I imagine that the city’s changed quite considerably, and now looks to be a carbon copy of the trendiest parts of London. Does the city still provide you with as much inspiration as it did for Moss-Side Story? What does inspire you?

BARRY ADAMSON: Well. I left Manchester some time ago, before the Happy Mondays and all of that era, but the city as I knew it then provided me with a historical noir backdrop of crime and decay, which I was completely drawn to. I guess my youth was impressed like a thumb into clay by the spirit of people living the way they did, when they did and how. How they relieved poverty through a whole myriad of entertainment; how the influence of black culture affected this and how movies might mirror these events. This model dominated my work for some time and perhaps other versions in other towns offer me similar yet different interest. I’m writing a screenplay which is clothed by London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and New York. So this kind of inspiration continues.

MS: Manchester is an important part of the history of the UK music scene – like London and Liverpool – and you were a player in that nascent scene with Howard Devoto in Magazine. Are you able to look back on those times now happily, or are you glad they’re behind you?

BA: Magazine was an incredibly happy time for me. It was like going to a school where you had a laugh all the time and the girls fancied you and the boys thought you were cool as a fuck. A bit like the juniors where it’s OK to fall over and cry at the blood spilling down your leg and then to get running again, laughing your ass of. None of which could have ever prepared me for the psychological, physical and spiritual slaughter of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds!

MS: Mute Records was your UK home for many years, and I was somewhat surprised that you have jumped ship. What prompted the move from the label? Your (presumably tongue-in-cheek) press release on the website states that you were given a gold watch, and I kind of got the impression that you were glad to be free?

BA : Well. There comes a point in everyone’s life… This was my point. I’d been here before: a kind of giddiness at the possible betrayal but knowing that the car you’re driving needs to go and a newer model (plus the fear of the possible cost) has to become the next avenue to walk/run down. As Joy Division once said – ‘A change of scene / A change of style / With no regrets.

MS: The new track, ‘Harlem’, is absolutely superb – obviously Adamson in an instantly-recognisable way, but a progession of sorts. Does the fact that this was made available as a download indicate a shift in the way that your music will be marketed? Are you in favour of downloads, or do you fall into the camp that would be against the widespread development of this?

BA: Without getting into this question too much from a political standing, yes absolutely on the idea that BA will now be a download purchase affair with ideas about having a specific photo info section available for each project. I guess for a while some hard copies will be available but it won’t be long before you can download your whole day! ‘Harlem’ was a tiny experiment. the standards were just above demo as far as I was concerned. I did it in a day but thought it good enough to give away I wanted to give something to the people who bother to sign up and they say such incredibly supportive things. In the future the songs and music will be mastered and obsessively detailed as usual.

MS: Many of your songs have an improvised tone to them, but you are credited as the sole author. How do your songs come about – what’s the process of getting them from an idea to being fully recorded? How do you decide which instruments / players will be used?

BA: Wow. The secrets of the BA? Let me see. Starts in the head. That fool was me was in a dream I had in Australia. The lot. Words, music, melody. Boom. I woke up and copied it up in 15 mins. That’s rare. Normally? You hear it and then the job is to arrange it so folk can dig it. Starts with me. Do I dig it? Do I get off on you diggin’ it? Instruments are tried and tested. Some come without effort, others you must wait for further inspiration. There are players who are so connected to themselves that they understand even my crudest of languages that rely on feeling and movie image. Those are the cats you keep in your book. It’s all a process.

MS: At the Barbican Only Connect concert in April, I noticed you were making use of a Mac. How has this changed the way you compose / perform?

BA: It’s amazing to sit with that thing and make very colourful sketches of ideas, some of which remain in the final mix. I remember recording Real Life with Magazine and after everybody went to bed, getting up again and making tracks into a cassette of sequences and stuff, using the keyboards and effects units. The G4 is kinda the same theory to me. I love the modern world of technology for the G4 alone!

MS: And finally, what’s next for Barry Adamson? New album? Tour? A totally different way of presenting your music? More soundtracks?

BA: I’m writing music everyday. Some for projects and some for myself. I’m gagging to make film. I’m preparing the way for this to happen. I would like to bring out some work online and then play live. The world is mine. Plus three weeks ago I had another son. Edmondo Lucas George Adamson. That’s my latest release!

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson, Anita Lane & The Thought System Of Love – These Boots Were Made For Walking (Mute Records single, 1991)

Barry Adamsn, Anita Lane and The Thought System Of Love 'These Boots Were Made For Walking' artwork

mute records | mute119 | 1991

This version of Lee Hazlewood’s hit – made famous by Nancy Sinatra – is an absolute stone cold classic, as they may have said in the 1970s. On Terry Donovan’s 7″ mix, those immediately-recognisable descending bass notes that herald the original are here complimented by piano and a deep dub-inflected hip hop beat. Barry Adamson adds a string section and a funk guitar where the Sinatra version quickened the pace with a rather cheesy horn section. Anita Lane‘s vocal is typically excellent, archly naïve and seductive all at once, somehow colouring the sparse arrangement perfectly.

On the other remix front, Renegade Soundwave departee Karl Bonnie‘s ‘Bonnie Floats On Airwair’ mix – aided superbly by Holger Hiller with additional noises from then-Orb member and onetime Fortran 5 accomplice Kris ‘Thrash’ Weston – ratchets up the bass levels and adds some pulsating electro percussion, pushing this into heavy digital dub territory, with all the aplomb expected from the assembled trio. The mix also makes full use of some sterling slide guitar work from ex-Birthday Party man Rowland S. Howard. John Waddell adds all manner of new elements – a fragile synth melody and soulful sax – and in so doing turns the track into a blissed out groove somewhat reminiscent of The Beloved, recalling the chilled-out Balearic vibe of the time.

Adamson’s own ‘Go Johnny’ blends two strands of his distinctive style – spiralling orchestration and jazzy bop laced through with samples and abrasive noises. The track kicks off with some meditative organ lines before diving headlong into a Bernard Herrmann-esque chase theme with a beat that doesn’t know if it’s bop or rockers reggae. Both ‘Go Johnny’ and the original cover of ‘These Boots…’ feature on the celebrated Fine Line soundtrack to Delusion.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Fast Times: Nick Cave Skateboard

Fast Times: Nick Cave deck

In what is probably a new low in Nick Cave merchandise – bearing in mind his previous lows have included Grinderman pants and tea towels – it was announced this week that Cave had worked with Fast Times and artist Chuck Sperry on a skateboard.

I will be completely honest – whenever I see spotty young urchins pulling tricks at the skate park down on London’s South Bank with their headphones on, I usually do assume they are listening to Nick Cave.


At this rate I think we can assume that a career in fronting insurance commercials when Iggy Pop throws in the towel isn’t far away.

Check out the advert for the deck featuring ‘Nature Boy’ below.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Barry Adamson – Soul Murder (Mute Records album, 1992)

Barry Adamson 'Soul Murder' artwork

mute records | stumm105 | 1992

Released in 1992, Barry Adamson‘s second Mute Records album proper is also perhaps his darkest, most cinematic to date. Beginning as all stories should with a ‘Preface’, Adamson sets the scene of murder and crime with a sample of a convicted brother detailing his list of crimes and misdemeanours, before Adamson kicks in a short burst of dramatic strings; the track concludes with either a vintage movie sample, or a heavily-aged new one – ‘Sorry to disturb you Mr Adamson.’

The album begins in earnest with a classic Adamson spoken word monologue on ‘Split’, referring to himself as El Deludo, Mr Moss Side Gory and Harry Pendulum, all over a lush jazz backdrop dripping with pianos, brshed cymbals and rousing horns. ‘There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,’ concludes Pendle. ‘When you see it that means that you’re dead.’ ‘The Violation Of Expectation’ is mysterious and beautiful – simple piano clusters over synth chords and a characteristic pallette of juxtaposed sounds. The introduction of a watery, distorted voice humming away to some unrecognisable tune runs a chill through this track that is partially leavened by the isolated sounds of crashing waves that conclude the track. ‘Suspicion’ features some solid Public Enemy-style gritty, industrial hip-hop beats, over which high octave keyboard melodies are layered.

‘A Gentle Man Of Colour’ is a truly disturbing story of prejudice in the vein of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – a black man is wrongly accused of a crime against a white woman, leading a mob of men to torture and ultimately burn him to death. The story is delivered as a news report by Marcia Schofield, while Adamson provides the narrative with a backdrop of incidental sounds. This is followed by ‘Trance Of Hatred’, an outwardly gentle piece for vibes and strings, counterweighted by a sample of what could be an armed gang robbery scene from a movie.

The frantic pace of the six minute ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, with its layers of keyboards and swirling, tense melodies reminds me very much of the opening music by Ennio Morricone for Oliver Stones The Untouchables. ‘Reverie’, in contrast, is a piano and xylophone work of melancholy beauty rendered in waltz time. The addition of some serene synth pads give this a soaring, moving quality, and it is hard not to to be touched by its serenity. ‘Un Petit Miracle’ in contrast is throwaway twee Gallic pop, featuring innumerable Casio presets, whistling and a innocent vocal from Pascale Fuillée-Kendall.

‘007, A Fantasy Bond Theme’, in contrast, is one of Adamson’s most humour-filled pieces. Setting the scene, Adamson drops in a narration by Arthur Nicholls detailing a Jamaican – James Bond – who believes he is Ian Fleming’s spy hero; ‘Bond…is black!‘ he tells us, in a stroke of genius wordplay. Monty Norman’s famous theme is here delivered with a skanking rockers beat and ska vibe – ludicrous and marvellous in the same breath. ‘The Adamson Family’ features vibes and some very sixties organ, the jazzy tones and cinematic strings, while ‘Cool Green World’ – with its MOR keyboards – could have been lifted from the soundtrack to an Eighties romantic comedy; it has a wholesome, family feel – imagine tree-lined wide pavements in some US suburb, immaculate front gardens, the leaves collecting in the gutter as summer turns to autumn – until the final minute and a half, where the key changes subtly, casting a darkening shadow over the track.

‘On The Edge Of Atonement’, a slowed-down pairing of jazz and gentle strings to the same theme as ‘Reverie’, with gospel vocals from Sarah Bower, Deloray Campbell, Peter Francis, Patricia Knight and Caron Richards, has a drifting, romantic tone and a capacity to uplift. ‘Epilogue’ closes with the same angry brother and strings as ‘Preface’, closing off a dark and mysterious addition to Barry Adamson’s catalogue.

First published 2004; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Fatal Casualties – Skrik Tyst (Alternative Mix)

Fatal Casualties have released a video to accompany an alternative mix of ‘Skrik Tyst’, taken from the Swedish duo’s debut album Psalm.

Watch the video for ‘Skrik Tyst’ – with guest vocals from cult Slovenian / Croatian electronic act Borghesia’s Dario Seraval – below.

Psalm was released as a limited edition LP by the Seja label. More details (including excerpts from my Electronic Sound review) can be found here.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence