Sunday, October 29, 2006

Technicolour Dream Cats: In Praise of Love and Rockets

A friend introduced me to Love and Rockets (the band, not the comic) in 1985. I was well aware of Bauhaus. I knew they'd broken up two years before, but didn't know that three-quarters had spun off into this psych-rock outfit. It was love at first listen. On The Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, Daniel Ash's Brit-inflected vocals and Mick Ronson strumming merge with Joy Division keyboard-playing (for which all receive credit) and the majestic drumming of Kevin Haskins, who pounds out a rolling, thundering, but never overpowering beat.

Back in the mid-1980s, I purchased most music on cassette. I didn't pick up this recording on CD until a few days ago. It sounds as good as I remember, although I prefer the original blue artwork (especially since albums two and three were red and white). Aside from the original nine tracks, there are four singles and two remixes. The former includes their 12-inch version of "Ball of Confusion" (the Temptations), the first L&R release. I love the trio's glam-tastic take on the track, but it's quite different from the rest of the disc, which sounds more like Echo and the Bunnymen covering the Moody Blues (the group has also name-checked Roxy Music and the Jesus and Mary Chain, analogies that hold up).

In picking up the 2000 remaster, I came across bass player/vocalist David J's liner notes (he is, incidentally, Kevin's brother), which describe the band better than I ever could, so I reproduce a portion here. Some might dub his prose "purple." Maybe so, but he perfectly captures L&R's exotic-yet-accessible early essence through his colorful turn of phrase.

1985 and a change of style. New clothes, different hats and, embroidered on our sleeves, all the influences previously locked up in a box marked "unshared treasure."

As our former co-provocateur, one Mr. Murphy, was not complicit in our cult of rabid enthusiasm for all things psychedelic, that particular potent genie was kept bottled up and only occasionally made manifest in spectral wisps of green vapour within the sepulchral locale of the castle Bauhaus. Once that dark entity had called it a night however, then the technicolour dream cat was free to burst from the bag. Consequently, we three found ourselves delighting in the exploration of the flora and fauna of a strange chimera
haunted jungle, resplendent with night blooming flowers dripping with opiated sound.

At the heart of this midsummer night's dream, a Puck in the form of that fragile visionary, Syd Barrett. A shooting star, we followed in the wake of his dazzling flare. With Bolan as our Oberon and the psychedelic Beatles our Titania, casting spells
to call home, we wake to dream.

Anchor to this heady flight, a world weary sardonic attitude
(see "The Game" and "The Dog-end of a Day Gone By").
Here the acid drenched brew is cut with humour of
the desert-dry and arch variety.

Though the group kept going for 14 more years--outlasting the mothership by almost a decade--I lost interest long before. I was living in England in 1986, when L&R released Express, which I loved. (I also got to see them live and, separately, Peter Murphy solo.) Their mainstream breakthrough arrived with the 1987 single "No New Tale to Tell," which I quite liked (the surrealistic video, too), but Earth, Sun, Moon seemed like a step back, and 1989's more rock-oriented Love and Rockets was the nail in the coffin. Time to call it a day, boys. Ironically, "So Alive" turned out to be their biggest hit and was followed by three more albums.

I give up on a lot of artists around the time of their third long-player, but that's when many lose momentum. The record in question may make for a pleasant enough listen, but if it isn't as strong as the previous two, that's often a warning sign (mediocrity ahead!). Still, two great albums is better than one. A few naff lyrics aside ("Throw the world off your shoulder tonight, Mr. Smith"), The Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven is a great album.

Endnote: Image from the AMG, video from YouTube. (You know it doesn't hurt that Ash is kind of sexy in that video; it isn't just about knowing how to sing or play, it's about knowing how to move.) And while I'm at it: Long live the Bubblemen!

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