The Ape of Naples
t’s perhaps unavoidable, but every single phrase here comes steeped in prophecy; every melody line leads the listener inwards towards reflection. The first line of opener “Fire of the Mind”: “Does death come alone or with eager reinforcements?” Its chapel-organ-like tones bring an immediate air of finality, hanging heavy over this final Coil studio album. Ian Johnstone’s gorgeously funereal white card packaging, striking photographs, and his stark cover artwork (which is either an angry ape or a figure post-castration, depending on which way you look at it) gives a quiet, contemplative, eerie, peace to the contents, which veer from maniacal lunacy to spiritual deliberation.
It’s unclear what the late Jhonn Balance’s completed vision would have been for the posthumous The Ape of Naples, and this album is a gathering of unreleased work from his last days and earlier material culled from uncompleted sessions. It was an odd combination of Balance’s deterioration, Promethean genius, and human warmth that made him one of the most unique frontmen ever; this LP stands as a testament to those qualities. There’s something slightly peculiar about the album in that at times Balance doesn’t seem fully visible even when he’s in full voice. On several occasions, his vocals sound somewhat shrouded. Is there lassitude in Balance’s voice, or is there a purposeful remoteness on the performances of “Triple Sun” and “Amber Rain”? Or is it just the hindsight of what happened investing his vocals with foresight?
Some of the material here will be familiar to Coil fans from live releases and gigs, and “The Last Amethyst Deceiver” (as near an official Coil classic as its possible to get), “Triple Sun” (the version here is criminally short but elegantly detailed) and “Teenage Lightning 2005” are already well known in Coil circles. But their place on this album and excellent production cannot be undervalued, as each helps to show Balance at his visionary best. The many Coil affiliates (Ossian Brown, Tom Edwards, Cliff Stapleton, Mike York, Danny Hyde, and Thighpaulsandra) that have helped Sleazy to realize these performances into gorgeously disturbed beds of music should receive praise, too; The Ape of Naples sounds truly out of time and delicately beautiful in places. The poise of electronic sounds and beats with warm live instrumentation (such as marimbas) gives the music a human heart, making the atmosphere of loss all the more conspicuous. “Tattooed Man”, either a song of love for his current partner or a piece of ugly self loathing, features a hurdy-gurdy, lending the track both a Gallic and sea-faring feel. How did these so-called Industrialists end up somewhere as charmingly sweet as here?
In contrast, they punch out a version of “Heaven’s Blade” that is as untethered, drugged, coherently dark, and deliciously vehement as anything they’ve done previously, even during their Ecstasy-overdosing era. A track from their aborted Backwards sessions at Trent Reznor’s Nothing Studios, this is a jilting, buzzing, jittery furrow which wolves whisper, swirl, and snarl around in hopes of fresh blood. Balance is slyly conspiratorial and loosely clings to the thin line between angelic transformation and madness; coupled with a magnificently understated backing track, this is likely to be seen as one of their pinnacles.
“I Don’t Get It” is creepily damaged, sounding like the unwinding of some sick child’s melted toy as organic twisted sounds bubble under the surface. Balance’s torn up, sped up, and fucked up vocals are cast into the mix without a thought for their malign influence on the sweet string and horn arrangements. Like some sleep-deprived remake of Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased, this foggy detective-thriller theme shows glimpses into a mangled psyche through the spitting, screaming, snarling Balance. The song attempts to pulse and strain under its own tight structures, but somehow remains in one piece to its creaking, rubber-gagged end.
His vocals also strain at the walls of sanity on “It’s In My Blood,” where his yodeling screams and elongated, tortured vowels manage to speak up for the whole asylum ward with the high pitched whine of the title. An oil drum beat, war horns, and Thighpaulsandra’s descending string derangements lead to an off-mic quip from Balance (“Is that enough, Sleaze?”), as if his howls were as normal to him as fish and chips.
Ending with one of the most unlikely songs for anyone to cover, never mind Coil, who’d of predicted the theme to UK cheesy camp sitcom Are you Being Served? being used for anything other than a UK Hip-Hop sample? “Going Up” takes the original’s theme and loops it under a slow waltz, turning it into a very gentle, tongue-in-cheek, open-armed welcome to Death. Balance’s words are dropped low into the mix and Francois Testory’s choirboy vocals are a prayer to the bric-a-brac of everyday life and the escape skywards.
This album catches Jhonn Balance’s many guises in amber and traps them for a generation of explorers to swallow, follow, and then take down their own path. As one of their most unmagikal-themed releases, there might have been commercial avenues for this album that will never be followed up. The summing up of twenty-three years of Coil will be left for the future’s sure-to-come “best of” collection; The Ape of Naples stands as one of their finest albums ever, making it all the more gutting that this is their last.
DECEMBER 19 - DECEMBER 25, 2005
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-12-19