Best tunes of 1992: #2 The Sisters of Mercy “Temple of love (1992)”

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Here we are finally near the end of this list of my favourite tunes of 1992, a series that I started just over a year and a half ago. I figure it’s time to wrap this thing up. And with these last two songs, we’ve got some epic, exciting tunes that are, comparatively speaking, quite different from each other.

Number two feels like a bit of a cheat. “Temple of love” was originally released as a non-album single by goth icons, The Sisters of Mercy, way back in the band’s early days in 1983. But this isn’t the version I know and love. No. I’m talking instead about the version that was re-recorded and reissued in 1992 to promote “Some girls wander by mistake”, a compilation of the band’s early material released by the label to mitigate the impacts of what it saw as rampant bootlegging. This new version of “Temple of love” doesn’t actually appear on said compilation, choosing instead to only include the original, untouched version. In fact, all of the songs that the Sisters released between 1980 and 1983 appear here as they were originally released, much to the chagrin of band frontman Andrew Eldritch, who wasn’t such a fan of all of it.

My friend Tim, whom I’ve credited in the past with introducing me to the band, loaned me his CD single copy of “Temple of love (1992)” in high school English class one day. I duly brought it home, copied it to cassette tape and repeatedly listened to this recording on my walkman that year. I had transcribed the name of track one exactly as it appeared on the back of the CD case: “Temple of love (Touched by the hand of Ofra Haza)”. Perhaps it was innocent of me but I had no idea at the time that this wasn’t a new song. I only heard the original when I dubbed myself a copy of “Some girls wander by mistake” much later.

Some have said this new version was faster and more guitar heavy but, if you listen to it back to back with the sinister sounding, post-punk influenced original, you can hear that original is actually faster in pace and has plenty of guitars to go around. The 1992 version just feels harder by comparison because of the stepped up, stomping drums and because it continues the heavy guitar themes explored with lead guitarist Andreas Bruhn on their previous studio album, 1990’s “Vision thing”. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the lengths of the two tracks – the original was quite big at just over seven and a half minutes but this second version bigs up on the original by additional thirty seconds.

But the real treasure of this second version for me is the vocal work by Ofra Haza, whose contributions Eldritch tried to highlight in the aforementioned title byline. It was another collaboration that sounded odd on paper**, but this one actually worked. Haza was a pop singer, one that maybe wasn’t as well-known in England or North America, but one that was very popular in her home country and was known there as “the Israeli Madonna”. It is her mezzo-soprano that lays another level to the chugging, chainsaw guitars and feels like an angel singing among the demons. It is a tender foil against Andrew Eldritch’s dark and deep voice espousing love as a religion, a spiritual experience to be feared, revered, and awed.

“In the temple of love: Shine like thunder
In the temple of love: Cry like rain
In the temple of love: Hear the calling
And the temple of love is falling down”

And as I said back when this very tune came in at number one out of my top five Sisters of Mercy tunes in a post a couple of years ago, this is a song that I’ve danced to many times over the years, especially back in my university days. Indeed, in my mind, “Temple of love (1992)” is a perfect fit for a dance floor explosion.

*The Sisters of Mercy’s label, WEA, had claimed in and around this time that the band were the most bootlegged band in their roster. And I believe it, given the ridiculous amounts of bootlegged vinyl I’ve seen flipping through the bins over the years.

**I’m pretty sure I read that it was also Andrew Eldritch’s idea for The Sisters of Mercy to tour North America with Public Enemy in 1991. It wasn’t quite as successful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Top five tunes: The Sisters Of Mercy

Who? The Sisters of Mercy

Years active: 1980 – present

Band members*:
Andrew Eldritch (lead vocals, keyboards, guitars, drum programming) 1980 – present
Doktor Avalanche (drum machine) 1981 – present
Gary Marx (guitars, vocals) 1980 – 1985
Craig Adams (bass) 1981 – 1985
Wayne Hussey (guitars, backing vocals) 1983 – 1985
Patricia Morrison (bass, backing vocals) 1987 – 1989
Chris Catalyst (guitars, backing vocals) 2005 – present
Ben Christo (guitars, bass, backing vocals) 2006 – present

*The above is only a selected list of band members. There have been a number of members throughout the band’s existence, of which Andrew Eldritch is the only constant.

Discography:
First and last and always (1985)
Floodland (1987)
Vision thing (1990)

Context:
So it’s October and Hallowe’en is just around the corner. I didn’t do anything holiday-themed last year and typically don’t observe the holidays too much on these pages but well… I’m due for another Top Five Tunes post. I thought about doing a Top Five favourite Hallowe’en tune post but didn’t have the energy to dig too deeply into my iTunes collection . Then I thought about going Goth and even that felt like I would have to wrack my brain a bit too much. (You’ll have to bear with me, I’ve already started looking at narrowing down my favourite albums for the end of the year series and it’s taking a lot out of me.) So I settled on making October Sisters of Mercy month this year.

Interestingly, if frontman and driving force behind the group, Andrew Eldritch, ever read these words connecting his group with Hallowe’en and anything remotely goth, he’d likely shudder, scream, and want to scratch my eyes out. He’s never been happy with the label, finding it quite offensive that the genre itself exists and even worse that anyone connects his work with it. I’ll never forget the only time I saw them live, back in 1999, and having noted all the black clothing, dyed hair, and heavy eye makeup in the audience, imagined all the collective jaws dropping in the dark when Eldritch took the stage with bleached blonde hair and a Hawaiian shirt. (If you’re wondering, yeah, it was a freaking awesome show.)

It was my friend Tim that got me into the Sisters of Mercy. He could tell you for sure but I feel like before he sold off his vinyl collection in the early 90s, he had a boatload of their 12″ singles. He started me off by including one of their songs on each of the many mixed tapes he made for me in our last couple of years of high school. But I think the night that really sold them for me was a night he was driving us all home from a drama performance night (yeah, I was a thespian back in high school) and “Ribbons” was blasting in the car. Tim hit a speed bump just as Eldritch was screaming “Incoming” and a good portion of the soft drink I was holding was dumped on whoever was sitting in the back seat behind me. The song stuck. And the rest is history.

Eldritch formed the group in 1980 with guitarist and friend, Gary Marx, taking their name from a Leonard Cohen song. He started off as drummer but quickly put that aside to concentrate on vocals, replacing himself with the first in a line of many different drum machines, all nicknamed “Doktor Avalanche”, that would provide the group’s rhythm throughout the years. This drum machine would be the only other constant in the group besides Eldritch to this day. You might have noticed above the strange fact for a group that has been in existence for almost 40 years: they’ve released only three studio albums (I’ll get to the why in a minute). But it’s also interesting to note that each of those albums were recorded by an almost completely different group.

After those three iconic records and a bunch of singles and compilation albums, recorded output from the band stopped. The recording hiatus started out as a protest against their record label but East West (Warner) released them from the contract 1997. Still nothing. The touring continued, however, and apparently so did the writing of new material, as was evidenced by the appearance of unreleased songs performed at these shows over the years. Rumours have abounded of new albums in the almost thirty years since “Vision thing” but the closest I think we have come was recently when Eldritch himself posited that they may have to finally get back to the studio should Trump be elected president. Well… the unthinkable has happened, perhaps we’ll see a new Sisters record soon. Until then, these are my own favourites from the old back catalogue.

The top five:

#5: Alice (from “Alice”, 1982)

“Alice” was The Sisters of Mercy’s third ever single but the first to gain any real traction. With its initial release in 1982, it got play on John Peel’s radio show, which led to its re-release the following year on a four song EP. It is one of the group’s best known songs and still regularly appears on set lists. It was re-recorded in 1993 and released as a B-side to the Sisters’ final ever released recording: the single “Under the gun”. Both version are quite good but I actually prefer the more austere and claustrophobic production of the original to crisp and flashy do-over. The song is about drug addiction, the title and name of the protagonist being a nod to the Alice of the children’s stories, and how little else matters to a junkie but the drugs. It is dark, edgy, and haunting, so post-punk and goth, even tending toward industrial before there was such a thing.


#4: Dominion / Mother Russia (from “Floodland”, 1987)

“Dominion” was the second single released off of “Floodland”, which some of you might remember made an appearance on my Best albums of 1987 series that wrapped up last month. Many different versions and remixes of varying lengths have been released but I prefer the seven minute version on the album that includes the “Mother Russia”. It adds a whole other element to the song, with lines comparing the US and Russia, almost equating the two as one. But even without this final piece, the song is very much reminiscent of the Cold War. With the clattering drum ominous guitars, and choral backing vocals, it evokes austerity and totalitarianism and propagandism and the threat of nuclear war. “Some say prayers – I say mine.” Yup.


#3: More (from “Vision thing”, 1990)

This one has already appeared on these pages when it peeked its goth rock face out at number seven on my best tunes of 1990 list last October (coincidence?). It was released as the first single off the outfit’s final studio LP, “Vision thing”, and features heavy handed piano and synth washes, muscular, machine gun guitars, and the backing vocals of Scottish singer Maggie Reilly. Like the rest of their catalogue, it is dark and sinister in sound but if you actually sat down and read the lyrics without the music, you might question it being penned by Andrew Eldritch. It reads like a straightforward love song, albeit one bordering on obsessive, almost junkie territory. “All I want, all I need, all the time is more of your sweet love. Too much just ain’t enough. I never needed a fix like this before.” A great tune for driving in the middle of the night with tears streaming down you face… or… wait… just a great tune, really.


#2: This corrosion (from “Floodland”, 1987)

Recorded during the same sessions as the song at number three above, “This corrosion” has Jim Steinman written all over it. The song is epic big in length, scope, and sound, as well as a budget epic enough to cover forty members of the New York Choral Society, whom you can hear opening the ten plus minute song. It is perhaps The Sisters of Mercy’s best known song, recently appearing in the Simon Pegg comedy, “The World’s End”, and his character sports a Sisters shirt throughout. Given the post-apocalyptic imagery of the video, I used to think there was deep, anti-war message/meaning to the song but I’ve since learned that the song and its “over the top” lyrics are really just a shot ex-band member and The Mission frontman, Wayne Hussey. “I got nothing to say I ain’t said before. I bled all I can, I won’t bleed no more. I don’t need no one to understand.” Learning this hasn’t changed anything for me, it’s still a great song in my books.


#1: Temple of love (1992) (from “A slight case of overbombing”, 1992)

Much like the song at number five, “Temple of love” was an early and popular non-album single that was re-recorded a decade later, but in the case of this song, I prefer the redo over the original. The 1982 version, while excellent as well, is more spare, definitely of its time and place, very much in its post-punk and goth element. Doktor Avalanche’s work here on rhythm is almost too obvious as a machine, the synths and guitars, though dark, are light in comparison with the band’s later work. The remake has the benefit of Andreas Bruhn’s chainsaw guitars and likely more apparent to the listener, the backing vocals of Israel singer, Ofra Haza, who adds a whole other layer of melodic beauty to the song. Doktor Avalanche appears to have learned a thing or two over the years and is more aggressive. The song is long but tailor-made to kicking it up on a Friday night (or a Thursday night pub party) and letting loose all that pent-up anxiety from the week. This song is one that always found me on the stage of the Underground’s dance floor at my own university‘s pub night, dancing with abandon and my pals Sam and Josh, whenever DJ Stephen Rigby thought to put it on, which was practically every week. So much awesome here.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.