(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)
Artist: The Sisters Of Mercy Album Title: Floodland Year released: 1987 Year reissued: 2013 Details: standard black, remastered by Mobile Fidelity, limited edition, numbered 4074
The skinny: A week and a half ago, I hinted in a post featuring my top five favourite tunes by the group, that I would be featuring more Sisters of Mercy themed posts over the course of October. Well, this is the first of three vinyl posts I plan to share with you in the coming weeks. First off, this pressing of 1987’s “Floodland” is the only Mobile Fidelity remaster in my collection thus far, but it sounds so great so I’d love to have more. Secondly, you might remember that this album appeared at number six in my top albums of 1987 list recently and two of its singles, “This corrosion” and “Dominion/Mother Russia”, appeared on the aforementioned top five tunes list. So yeah, great album. The track below goes out to Mr. 1537, who reminded what a great dance track it is.
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.
First and last and always (1985)
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.
Happy Thursday! And welcome to the third installment of my Throwback Thursday (#tbt) best albums of the year series. This time, we are on a voyage all the way back to 1987. Just over thirty years ago. The world was a different place, especially for me. Because I was but a child.
1987 marked the year I left grade school and entered high school. A big step for some but since my school was in the process of spawning a secondary school, it just meant changing classrooms. I don’t remember much else special about those early days of grade nine, at least nothing else I want to share today. It was… a very, very long time ago.
Nonetheless, I can assure you that, at the time, I didn’t know anything about music. I definitely wasn’t listening to the albums that will make up this top ten list. In fact, I can’t even remember for certain the songs and artists to which I might have been listening. It was likely the pop and top 40 that I was able to pick up on my AM radio, music from singers like Bruce Springsteen and Corey Hart and Madonna. I would only start discovering the world of alternative music a few years later and some of the following albums would figure in, while others I wouldn’t discover until much later.
It will go without saying that a good portion of the albums I will cover today and in the coming weeks are now considered classics and very much in the mainstream but back in the day, they were on the cutting edge and pushing the boundaries of what pop and rock music should be. So before I start ruining surprises, I am going to kick things off with the first five albums of my top ten below. And if you don’t know the trick by now, I will be featuring the top five, an album each Thursday, over the next five weeks. I hope you enjoy this trip back 30 odd years with me.
#10 Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
“Within the realm of the dying sun” is the third album by these Australian exports to England, mainly the duo of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard by 1987. It marks a departure from their earlier post-punk and gothic rock sound, dispensing almost completely with guitars and utilizing a vast range of unorthodox instruments, some of which you may have never heard of or seen before. The album’s sides are split between the two primary vocalists and songwriters but it is cohesive in its big and dark and worldly sound. This is the Dead Can Dance we know and love.
With this, their second album, Jason Pierce’s pre-Spiritualized band with Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember, Spacemen 3 were arguably at their recorded output apex. They were given pretty much free reign of a recording studio for eight months, where they were able to experiment and hone their songs together to perfection. Compare that with the debut that was recorded in a week with an unsympathetic producer and to their third and fourth records, where the relationship, both personal and working, between the primary songwriters, Pierce and Kember, were by times, deteriorating and completely non-existent. This “rollercoaster” concept album of a trip (see what I did there?) is raw and soulful and psychedelic and woefully underrated.
For their second album, the Reid brothers replaced Bobby Gillespie (who left to focus on Primal Scream) with a drum machine and really, did much of the instrument work on “Darklands” themselves. They stripped back a lot of the feedback and fuzz and noise but still managed to infuse the follow up to “Psychocandy” with just as much darkness and pure cool. Like the other two albums I’ve already listed, I got into this album years after its release and for me, it’s not an album of singles (although “Happy when it rains” is pretty phenomenal) but one of mood and feel. All black leather and sunglasses cool.
In doing these best albums lists, I’ve been trying to limit my selections strictly to studio albums, which is why you won’t find New Order’s iconic compilation album, “Substance”, in this list for 1987. However, Jane’s Addiction’s self-titled debut album is a special case. Yes, it is a live album but it was heavily mixed and dubbed in the studio afterwards. I also think that Perry Farrell and company went this route to avoid having their debut release come out on a major label, given that they were being heavily courted by Warner at the time. And finally, it’s an album that defies ignoring. It captures the band’s raw live energy and includes rough first recordings of songs like “Pigs in zen” and “Jane says” that would later get a makeover and become classics. And oh yeah, there’s a couple of great covers… like the one below.
My friend Tim got me into The Sisters of Mercy back in the latter days of high school. He recorded me a copy of 1990’s “Vision thing”, which I loved, and later, when I caught and recorded the video for “This corrosion” on Much, the deal was sealed. The Sisters released three albums and each were recorded by three very different looking bands, the only constants were frontman Andrew Eldritch and his drum machine, Doktor Avalanche. On this, their second album, the goth rock outfit also included Patricia Morrison, who didn’t do very much on the album musically but definitely added to its image and tone. Epic rock producer Jim Steinman (who worked a lot with Meatloaf) also added his touches, especially on the aforementioned “This corrosion” and “Dominion/Mother Russia”. It’s big and it’s dark and it’s awesome.