Wednesday, 14 November 2007

First Album Blues

The other day, I indulged in something that I haven’t done for many years. I set my record deck to revolve at 45 rpm and played some of my 12” vinyl EPs that date mainly from the late 70s and 80s. But whilst I was wallowing in a warm bath of nostalgia, I noticed two examples that show how good a band’s early work can be and how it all goes a bit pear-shaped when they make it into a grown up studio.

The first example is those breast baring reggae punks, the Slits, and the vinyl in question, the ‘Peel Session’ EP. On this disc there is a mesmerising version of ‘New Town’ which starts as a swaying paean to drug addiction and accelerates into death wish cacophony. Contrast this with the ‘proper’ version on their debut album ‘Cut’ and you can see how it all went a bit wrong. Despite the inclusion of yet-to-be-a-Banshee Budgie on drums, the reconstituted ‘New Town’ is not a patch on the Peel session take. Somehow the improved instrumental playing and polished production has knocked the stuffing out of it. And this is not the only instance I found.

Example number two is Ghost Dance, a short lived late 1980s goth band formed by ex-Sister of Mercy guitarist, Gary Marx and ex-Skeletal Family, chanteuse Anne-Marie Hurst. I first discovered this lot through their single, ‘The Grip of Love’ which appeared on an Indie compilation in 1986. I saw them play live a couple of times and thought they were very good indeed.

The EP I refer to here is their ‘A Word to the Wise’ which appeared on the independent Karbon label and comprises 4 songs of compelling urgency and beauty and which corresponded exactly with the band I had seen live. Unfortunately, after releasing a few well-received vinyl singles and a mop up album, ‘Gathering Dust’, they were then snapped up by Chrysalis and produced a proper debut album (CD, no less!) ‘Stop the World’ in 1989 but it just wasn’t the same. The songs sound flat and a bit lifeless as if, in the rush to commercial success, the production has squeezed their very being to a pulp.

So what happens when a promising new band record their first album? Clearly most survive but a small percentage fall by the wayside and I can only think it is because their style is incompatible with the process and discipline of a major label product. There is obviously a fine line between nurturing a new sound and destroying it completely - however accidentally. The Slits survived, just, but Ghost Dance didn’t.

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