Mick Harvey – Intoxicated Women (Mute album, 2017)

“Does much to alter the misconception that Gainsbourg was little more than a louche, womanising so-and-so only capable of producing kitsch-y songs dominated by sex and decadence.” – Clash

Mute stalwart Mick Harvey has released the fourth and final album in his project to translate the work of Serge Gainsbourg, this time focussing largely on the songs Gainsbourg wrote for female collaborators.

I reviewed the album for Clash. My review can be found here.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Mick Harvey – Delirium Tremens (Mute album, 2016)


I reviewed the third instalment of Mute stalwart Mick Harvey‘s project to translate the songs of Serge Gainsbourg from their native French to English, Delirium Tremens, which was released back in June.

Since this finally got published after a lengthy delay, Mute have announced details on the fourth volume, Intoxicated Woman – not bad going considering the twenty year gap between the second and third chapters.

You can read my Clash review here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Anita Lane – Do That Thing (Mute Records single, 2002)

Anita Lane 'Do That Thing' artwork

mute records | mute285 | 2002

I actually felt quite embarrassed listening to this second single from Anita Lane‘s appallingly-titled Sex O’Clock. Not because it’s a terrible track, far from it, but because the lyrics are so overtly sexual (example lyric: ‘Call me up on the erogenous zone / All night kundalini telephone.‘) – it is a bit like how uncomfortable you felt as a teenager when the passion levels rose a bit too high in a film you were watching with your parents. Or maybe that was just me.

No two ways about it, Lane here is feeling horny, many of the lyrics delivered as if midway through a hazy passionate clinch. Repeated choruses with Mick Harvey of ‘Do that thing / That thing that you do.‘ urge the sexual momentum forward. Musically, Harvey has constructed a song of considerable beauty, a classic soul groove with a host of Motown strings and percussion-driven beat; think Marvin Gaye duetting with Serge Gainsbourg. Classy, subversive, blatant – perfect.

The solitary B-side ‘Look At The Sun’, co-written and produced by Johnny Klimek, is a countrified ballad, a thing of remarkable beauty. Lane’s vocal is perfect for the track, which really draws out the emotional quality of the song. In fact, the song could have been delivered just as successfully by her former beau Nick Cave.

First published 2004; re-edited 2015.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Boatman’s Call (Mute Records album, 1997)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 'The Boatman's Call' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/c stumm142 | 03/03/1997

I was tempted to write this review with just one word. That word is ‘beautiful’. Allegedly written by Nick Cave at exactly the same time as Murder Ballads, these songs were written with simplicity in mind, and as such the majority of these superior compositions feature a stripped back Bad Seeds, and a heavy dose of piano. The contrast with Murder Ballads could not be greater, taking a deeply intimate, romantic and often spiritual tone. No-one dies here, one may be relieved to know.

But maybe a little part of Nick Cave died in order to make a collection of songs; that part of him was the preacher, the aggressor, the dervish spirit howling and caterwauling over a maelstrom of sensational music, and that character wouldn’t emerge again until the later Grinderman project. It genuinely isn’t a criticism – I happen to think that The Boatman’s Call is among Cave’s finest work. Everything about album is black and white – the Johnny Cash-esque Anton Cobijn photo of a particularly troubled Nick Cave on the front cover, through the predominance of the piano keys across the LP, through to the downright clarity of Cave’s songwriting. What’s most clear about The Boatman’s Call is the often obvious theme of these songs, for this is Nick Cave’s most directly personal collection of ideas, from the post-PJ Harvey reflectiveness of the quirky folk leanings of ‘West Country Girl’ and ‘Black Hair’, through to his ruminations on his failed marriage on ‘People Just Ain’t No Good’ or ‘Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere’.

However, aside from a fair amount of openness from our tortured songsmith, The Boatman’s Call also features two genuinely beautiful love songs – ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ and ‘Brompton Oratory’. Like much of the album, these have a musical accompaniment from The Bad Seeds that is directly informed by subtle jazz but the latter also features a perfectly twee Casio rhythm that sounds like it survived from Cave’s original demo. The latter describes a trip made by Cave to Kensington’s famous, and imposing, landmark, and finds Cave wishing he were one of the stone apostles therein, just so that he wouldn’t have to deal with his muse’s intense beauty. It perfectly captures the intensity of romance’s first flourishes, that feeling of not being able to cope anymore. ‘Lime Tree Arbour’ is just mystical and beautiful, its waterside setting making me think of Murder Ballads’ ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, with all the same romantic longings, just none of the death; an alternative ending, perhaps?

The album features the full Bad Seeds line-up (Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld, Thomas Wydler, Conway Savage, Martyn P. Casey, Jim Sclavunos and Warren Ellis), albeit in controlled doses, and benefits from an unusually restrained production job from Flood, who also produced the oft-slated U2 album Pop the same year. The style of production is subtle and delicate, and Cave’s vocal is dominant in the mix, casting a personal, intimate shadow over proceedings, making this the closest Cave has yet come to the introspection of Leonard Cohen. It feels like a one-to-one connection between the narrator and sympathetic listener. Warren Ellis’ violin is also an important element here, receiving greater space in the mix than previously, bestowing the gypsy folk of ‘West Country Girl’ with a rabidly maudlin edge. His work on ‘Idiot Prayer’, perhaps the track closest to a classic Bad Seeds ballad sees his violin overtaking Blixa’s fuzzy guitar as lead instrument, a sign of the sea change that was to come.

I have my own, highly personal reasons, for counting this among my favourite albums of all time. Suffice it to say, seven years on, it’s the more miserable tracks here – like the personally chord-resounding ‘Far From Me’ – that I find myself reflecting on of that period in my life. ‘Can’t you find somebody else / That you can ring and tell?‘, Cave sings on that penultimate, delicately poignant song. Those would become wise words for my younger self.

 

I was minded to re-post this review after hearing the lead single from this album, the delicate ‘Into My Arms’ at the end of Richard Curtis’s About Time movie. It’s been a long time since I heard this album and for the personal reasons alluded to above, it’s one that I now find relatively hard to contemplate listening to. In the movie, Cave’s track is chosen by the dying Bill Nighy as the soundtrack for his own wake, lending the track a greater poignancy than perhaps Cave ever even intended.

A couple of years ago someone at Mute sent me a link to a YouTube rip of some songs that were recorded for The Boatman’s Call sessions but which have never surfaced except for on an expensive bootleg CD. The tracks that didn’t make it to the final album were every bit as perfect as the ones that were on the final release, a telling testament to the furious level of output that Cave was enjoying in this period of his life. The twin albums of Murder Ballads and The Boatman’s Call thus stand as one of the most pivotal periods in Cave’s career as a songwriter, marking a crossing place, a transition and the start of his wider public acceptance as one of the finest lyricists of our generation.

Track list:

lp/c/cd:

A1. / 1. Into My Arms
A2. / 2. Lime-Tree Arbour
A3. / 3. People Ain’t No Good
A4. / 4. Brompton Oratory
A5. / 5. There Is A Kingdom
A6. / 6. Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?
B1. / 7. (Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For?
B2. / 8. West Country Girl
B3. / 9. Black Hair
B4. / 10. Idiot Prayer
B5. / 11. Far From Me
B6. / 12. Green Eyes

For information on other formats go to: http://www.discogs.com/master/view/18393

First published 2004; re-edited 2014. This review focusses on the 1997 original release, not the remastered, expanded 2011 edition.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

cd:
1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

The Ministry Of Wolves – Music From Republik Der Wölfe (Mute Records album, 2014)

The Ministry Of Wolves 'Music From Republik Der Wölfe' LP artwork

mute artists | lp/cd/i stumm360 | 10/03/2014

Republik der Wölfe is a theatre production commissioned by Theatre Dortmund’s artistic director Kay Voges and directed by Claudia Bauer which premiered on 15 February 2014. The music for the production comprised collaborations between Mick Harvey, Alexander Hacke, his girlfriend Danielle di Picciotto and Paul Wallfisch. Harvey is a veritable Mute stalwart given his tenure with bands like The Bad Seeds, and as a multi-instrumentalist and producer he has a reputation as being a highly skilled and versatile addition to any line-up. Hacke is a veritable Goliath – in both stature and reputation – who formed a crucial component of the noise onslaught of Einstürzende Neubauten and found himself offering a more nuanced role in Simon Bonney‘s Crime & The City Solution. Di Picciotto is an accomplished artist who formed part of the new Crime lineup that released American Twilight in 2012, and whose live visuals accompanied that album’s tour. Keyboard player and singer Wallfisch is founder of the New York group Botanica, a group whose music is variously described as ‘gypsy and punk-cabaret infused chamber rock’ and who have collaborated with Kid Congo Powers, another Bad Seeds alumnus.

The music takes its principal inspiration from the fairytales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the stories of whom will be familiar to more or less any child albeit viewed through a distinctly Disneyfied lens. The original stories by Grimm were a mix of the ethereal and macabre, drawing inspiration as much from folklore as the frighteningly original imagination of the two brothers. (By way of a recent anecdotal footnote, I was in a shop in the Germany pavilion at Disney’s EPCOT last month where they had copies of the collected Grimm tales for sale. Two Americans next to me were dumbfounded as to why these fairytales were in the Germany pavilion, so co-opted have they been by Hollywood over the past century that they are regarded as quintessentially American in origin.) Just like the original fairytales on which they are based, the music written by this group has an authentic air of dark mystery, sorcery and otherworldliness, making for an original body of work that exists happily – if strangely – without the visuals for which they were intended.

First, let us deal with the songwriting. My only real awareness of the original Grimm fairytales come from a combination of the sanitised Ladybird books and Disney movies of my youth, and my two daughters’ enduring fascination with fantastical princesses and mythical creatures. Consequently I have no real understanding of what the band are going on about here, though it’s clear from titles and some of the subject matter as to which particular story they are dealing with. Whether in the ethereal spoken word tracks from di Picciotto, the fragile double-tracked musings of Mick Harvey or Alex Hacke’s ominous intonation on ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ the guts of the story are evident, even to an ignorant like me. Only, the tone here is fundamentally dark, linking the songs to the original stories albeit through a thoroughly contemporary lens – the mischievous dwarf Rumpelstiltskin wasn’t, as far as I can tell, ever exhibited at a Coney Island funfair, for example. The whole thing is shrouded in a sinister, almost violent mysteriousness, knocking for six most versions of these tales.

Next, consider the music. Neither Harvey nor Hacke are strangers to composing music for theatre, and both Neubauten and Harvey (with Nick Cave) have albums in the Mute back catalogue that were commissioned for plays. Between the two of them their sense of space and detail is second to none, and when combined with Wallfisch’s piano – somewhere between bar-room blues and jazz – the whole thing swings with a depth and inventiveness that is in many ways more interesting than making sense of the vocals. An obvious reference point would be The Bad Seeds between Tender Prey and Let Love In (‘The Little Peasant’ even has ‘Red Right Hand’-esque organ vamps), but there’s also a relaxed, jazz-inflected dimension here too, cutting gently through the gloom. The start of ‘Cinderella’, with di Picciotto on vocals even sounds a lot like ‘The Carny’ from Cave’s The Firstborn Is Dead. For this reviewer the highlight is ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, a edgy stew of droning guitars, grungy vibes and a storyline delivered in German and English by Wallfisch that seems to relocate Little Red to a New York gangland scene.

Above all, this is an inventive album based on an interesting concept, produced by four individuals who, in their own right, are incredibly talented but who together can create something very special indeed. My only gripe is that it feels like this music really needs its visual dimension to completely make complete sense of this theatrical offering.

Listen to ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ and watch di Picciotto’s making-of documentary below.

Track listing:

lp/cd/i:
1. The Gold Key
A1. / 2. Rumpelstiltskin
A2. / 3. The Frog Prince
A3. / 4. Cinderella
A4. / 5. Rapunzel… (As Isdora Duncan)
B1. / 6. Hansel And Gretel
B2. / 7. Snow White (Heptagon)
B4. / 8. The Little Peasant
B3. / 9. Sleeping Beauty
A5. / 10. Iron Hans
11. Little Red Riding Hood
B5. / 12. White Snake Waltz

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Mick Harvey – Sketches From The Book Of The Dead (Mute Records album, 2011)

Mick Harvey 'Sketches From The Book Of The Dead' CD artwork

mute artists | lp+cd/cd stumm329 | 02/05/2011

Unbelievably, despite being in his fifth decade of making music, this is Mick Harvey‘s first album of totally self-penned songs. Time spent in the bands of Nick Cave, Simon Bonney and PJ Harvey, plus all that time devoted to poring over the Serge Gainsbourg legacy for two albums, has evidently paid off; Sketches From The Book Of The Dead is an accomplished, yet understated, collection of eleven songs, all of which ruminate on death. The album was produced by Mick, who also plays guitars, piano, organ, electric bass and percussion. Harvey was also joined by Rosie Westbrook (double bass), J.P. Shilo (accordion, violin, electric guitar) and Xanthe Waite on backing vocals.

According to my new best friend Wikipedia ‘the Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (around 1550 BC) to around 50 BC.’ So now you know.

Overt reference to the Book of the Dead, or at least Harvey’s version, comes in the lyrics of the opening track, ‘October Boy’, which was made available as a free mp3 a few months before the album was released. ‘If you’re writing a song for the Book of the Dead / Then write one, write one for me,‘ sings Harvey in the voice of the October Boy of the title, while a dark, filmic, almost Morricone-esque backdrop underpins the black tale of a man anointed with a ‘sonic gun‘ who takes ‘rock ‘n roll poison’; that October Boy is almost certainly Rowland S. Howard, departed to the afterlife in recent years, and whose birth month was October. It is an unopinionated obituary to one of Howard’s earliest musical allies, the writer of the haunting ‘Shivers’ and his co-creator of amazing sounds in The Birthday Party.

‘The Ballad Of Jay Givens’ will be familiar to anyone who picked up a copy of Mute‘s Vorwärts compilation from earlier this year. This is Mick, with accompaniment from guitar, strings and organ, telling a dark tale of Givens, apparently his father’s best friend, a chap with a pretty dark and shady past. As a story set to music it’s absorbing and mysterious. ‘Two Paintings’ exists on a haunting musical tapestry of looping, often elegiac noise and mournful piano, depicting it seems, the separation from a loved one, featuring the descriptions of two paintings by Gustav Pillig. There are some truly moving moments in this song, particularly Mick’s wordless vocal harmonies at the very end. Pillig’s artwork adorns the sleeve and booklet, along with other paintings from Katy Beale.

‘Rhymeless’ is a clever, folksy piece whose verses are structured from fragments of well-known nursery rhymes. ‘All the songs that you never sang / To your little ones,‘ is a line which fills me with much regret. The song deals with children moving from being cherished to being effectively abandoned, neglected, deserted, forgotten, none of which I am remotely guilty of when it comes to my two wonderful daughters. But it does sadden me that my children seem to know the nursery rhymes that Harvey quotes from without me ever having once sung them those words. ‘Frankie T. & Frankie C.’ describes the love shared by the two characters of this song, a man and a woman both sharing the same first name; the way Harvey describes the spark shared between them reminds me of the way people of my grandparents’ generation might have described the first flushes of romance. Alas, the love of the two Frankies was to be short-lived, the death of Frankie C. leaving Frankie T. alone and mourning the loss of his beloved, finding himself spending his days longing after her and ultimately fading away in a bid to join her. While most of the backing has Harvey plucking elliptical patterns on his guitar over droning, carefully-sculpted sound, there are some fantastically heavy guitar crescendos at the end of the chorus.

In a neat play on words, ‘A Place Called Passion’ – a tale of someone lost during World War One – the front-line assault on Passchendaele and the word ‘passion’ are forced into an unhappy marriage, Harvey’s story of a relative who lost his life during the Great War evoked through the artefacts handed down to him – books bearing futile inscriptions from that relative’s parents pointing him toward a bright, but ultimately thwarted, future. This is the realities of conflict distilled into personal impact and significance. Like so many of the tracks on Sketches From The Book Of The Dead, ‘A Place Called Passion’ is extremely poignant. ‘To Each His Own’ is mysterious, a spoken-word poem of sorts over whining noise, with an intonation not unlike his former Bad Seeds bandmate Blixa Bargeld‘s spoken word pieces.

‘The Bells Never Rang’ is one of my personal favourite tracks, a ballad which takes us to Paris, rural Australia and Geneva over its three verses set to layers of strummed guitar that rise in intensity and urgency, only to drop away into a chorus of vocal harmonies and thin, reedy organ. This appears not to be a reflection on death of people per se, but on wasted opportunities, lost chances and relationships that fizzled out. ‘That’s All, Paul’ has a title that wouldn’t have gone amiss on one of Harvey’s Gainsbourg albums. Who Paul is we never know, but it would seem from the lyrics that young Paul, seemingly cut short in his prime, probably never really got to know himself either; Harvey is evidently bitter toward this pointless loss of life, which sounds as if it was caused by a single moment of recklessness. For that reason alone it reminds me of Rebel Without A Cause.

The album, fittingly, closes with the rousing single ‘Famous Last Words’, but it is preceded by one of the most evocative, moving love songs I’ve ever heard, ‘How Would I Leave You?’. Accordion, dramatic but sparse drums, piano and strummed guitars underpin Harvey reflecting on his attempts to leave somewhere (home?), his decision, or indecision, influenced by the wondrous nature he sees all around him. It all sounds idyllic, pristine, Walden-like, Harvey laconically and benevolently forced into inaction by the world he sees enveloping him.

Track listing:

lp+cd / cd:
1. October Boy
2. The Ballad Of Jay Givens
3. Two Paintings
4. Rhymeless
5. Frankie T. & Frankie C.
6. A Place Called Passion
7. To Each His Own
8. The Bells Never Rang
9. That’s All, Paul
10. How Do I Leave You?
11. Famous Last Words

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence