1983 / 2006
his is the story of Robert and Steven, their friend Jeanette, and a rather unlikely album.
In 1983 Mr. Robert Smith was immersed in a slew of redemptive pop singles, which were acting as a kind of quick-fix antidote to the evident strains of Pornography. Mr. Steven Severin’s last full-length album gig had been the equally difficult voodoo-hoodoo of Juju. Ms. Jeanette Landray was throwing silent shapes on Top of the Pops behind unconvincing graphical overlay effects. Despite discussions about a Smith-Severin collaboration dating back to the early 80s, a record in these conditions didn’t seem hugely likely. Let alone a chemical-scorched meld of surreal aesthetics, low budget video-nasties, and other vital cultural touchstones. Especially as the villainous spectre of legal paperwork meant that Robert wasn’t really supposed to contribute vocals to any extra-Cureicular projects. If only an unknown dancer could be found to unexpectedly take his place (except for on, say, two compromise tracks)...
That story writes itself. The original plan for some speculative, contrary songs to be tactically deployed in Japan would subsequently develop into a full-blown creative endeavour. A gloriously strange one, at that.
This is no secret to Cure obsessives or Banshee aficionados, of course. Chances are high that such dedicated weirdoes will already have a copy. Maybe they’ll have two. Perhaps they’re living in a house constructed entirely from copies of Blue Sunshine, clutching an original vinyl pressing to their chest as they smile knowingly, well-aware of the superlatives about to be thrown carelessly around in reference to an album they’ve known about for aaaages. Well hold on a second, Smuggy McSmuggington—there’s something special for you later. Oh yes, no-one goes away empty handed from the sparkly reissue treasure chest.
Those listening for the first time don’t have to wait long for oddness to occur. “Like an Animal” says hello with a frantic burst of drumming and the wonky swagger of one who dwells in a washing machine. Seconds later, we are formally introduced to the enthusiastic Landray, who provides thrills in a way that only a vocalist who could lose the tune at any possible moment can. Despite being buffeted dangerously close to the edge throughout the record, she survives; much like a plucky heroine pursued by an axe-wielding maniac. But the words she utters, oh my. Back to “Like an Animal”; “One mile in the air that’s where she lives,” mm-hmm. “Her body looks so thin and pink and small,” OK, I guess. “Dropping eggs from nervous shaking hands” ... err. “And swallowing her fingers as they fall” ... right, yes ... umm. It doesn’t exactly get any less confusing. Pretty soon we’re told to “Let the dry air cut her happy throat / Hide her heart and lose her happy head”—evidence that late-night video gore sessions hadn’t gone to waste when it came to songwriting.
Amidst the occasional nod to hack-n-slash, curious storybook characters make their fleeting appearances. Looking-glass girls accompanied by strings which sound like they stood up a bit too quickly, for instance. Or a dapper gentleman named Mr. Alphabet who has some extremely strange ideas about treacle and riding crops as he dances jauntily upon a piano. Each one beneath the shadow of a mysterious Man from Nowhere; every image peeking out from behind whichever other-worldly noises are being conjured from obscure instruments or sorcerer-like production techniques at that particular moment. There’s even time for a break from all this color and clamor, with the serene and unhurried bassy thumps and echoey keyboard pathways of “A Blues in Drag.”
So that’s disc one, then. You should hear it, it’s really rather wonderful.
Meanwhile, on disc two. Ahh, disc two, the aforementioned special thing (come closer and I’ll whisper). It’s ... the entire album, again! Except this time Robert is free to sing his crazy heart out on each and every track, being, as they are, cunning studio demos which served as a handy guide for their vocal newcomer. For those of a certain persuasion, this is quite an exciting thing indeed. Though in parts somewhat fragile and skeletal (not in the drum machine department, which seems a little too robust), they essentially offer an intriguing Blue Sunshine from a parallel universe. One in which Smith wraps his own bizarre inflections and tricks around already freaky lyrics.
Everything is still here, albeit generally in a proto-birth stage. The wobbly bubbles and potential Return to Oz references of “This Green City” are fully present, yet not as persistently immediate. It is as if time has gently slowed and the clocks have filled with water. “Punish Me With Kisses” takes on a more relaxing tone, seemingly more contented than its restless twin across the void. Some mumbled, cloudy words appear on the previously instrumental “A Blues in Drag.” There are, of course, other bits and pieces—extra mixes and unearthed b-sides—but it is the distorted mirror-image of the original record which shimmers brightest when the blue sun shines upon it.
So that’s disc two, then. You should hear it, it’s really rather wonderful too.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2006-08-16