As I collated the information for the main Gods & Alcoves website, it occurred to me that it was exactly thirty years ago that I started buying records – I was 14 – and that was 1982, right in the heart of the very best years for goth, alternative and post-punk (in June 1982 you could see The Cure, Siouxsie, the Birthday Party, the Southern Death Cult, the Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus live in the UK). If I had been able to get to gigs (and managed to fund it!) I think I’d have been at a gig every night.
So I thought it would be interesting, every month, to look at what was happening exactly thirty years ago. So welcome to January 1982. Killing Joke release the Unperverted Pantomime live fan-club cassette, the Birthday Party are touring and The Cure and Play Dead have John Peel sessions.
And it is the Cure’s fifth John Peel session, from the 4th January 1982, that I have playing at the moment, warbling away (One Hundred Years has been ripped from a cassette and it sounds like the car stereo as it mangles a tape). Tracks are:
These tracks all come from the Cure’s fourth album Pornography, released a little later in May 1982, and, like many, many dedicated Cure fans, I think that this is their finest hour. Pornography was produced by Phil Thornally, who went on to play bass for Cure briefly in 1984 (when Simon Gallup went walk about) and was the bass player on Concert – The Cure Live, and he ended up co-writing Torn (Natalie Imbruglia’s international best seller, so presumably he’s really, really rich).
We’ll overlook the fact that Phil fronted Johnny Hates Jazz when we take into consideration the masterpiece that is Pornography. It is one of the LPs which defines the goth sounds. The sound is incredibly dense, you may go as far to say muddy at times, but it is a good muddy, I think a very intentional muddy. It was mixed on the API desk at RAK Studios (picture), and these desks provide thick, dark, mixes when pushed.
The band was indulging heavily, by all accounts, and there seemed to be a real dark cloud over the songs and musical style of the Cure during the Faith and Pornography period. Smith had also formed the Glove with Steve Severin from Siouxsie and the Banshees , and would go on to tour with them in the next year (and was basically burning all ends of the candle). And the songs seem reflect that mood. The drums are tribal – lots of tom work, few high hats – and the bass plays rigid, minor-key eighths. The guitar picks out spidery lines over the top, with slow, recurring motifs. The vocal is distant and heavily effected with reverbs and delays. The words are haunting, depressive, negative and delivered in a slow, down-key manner.
This album is what Editors and Interpol aspire to. It is almost perfect.
The Peel session is really interesting. The tracks are recorded live and the mix seems pretty neutral, and that’s what’s best about session tracks, you get generally get emptier songs (exposing the real core of the song) and transparent, quick mixes (four tracks in a day? That’s going some) provides almost a totally new interpretation of the songs.
The Figurehead use a drum machine, and, without the thick production the LP has, they sound toy-ish, Bontempi-ish, but not in a bad way, in a similar way to the very early Sisters sound. Some of the vocal phrasing is different as slightly different and some of the intros are longer, but otherwise the songs structures are as they are on the LP.
Best track for me is the Figurehead. I love this track and hearing it stripped back like this is amazing. The cure are rumoured to be releasing a BBC or Peel sessions CD, but if it goes ahead I hope it is more like Siouxie’s three CD + DVD “at The BBC” package.
Pornography was re-released as a double CD set in 2005, and the extra CD contains excellent demo versions of many tracks off Pornography, plus some good live material, but if you are reading this there’s a pretty good chance that this is old news.
Go and put Pornography on now!