When David J released this initially not much was expected of him. Not in terms of quality, as we knew it would be good, but in terms of style. What exactly was he going to be doing? Always something of an enigmatic figure onstage was he going to veer abruptly away from anything remotely Bauhausian, or would he plough a darker, perkier furrow? Of course the answer was a little bit of both. Musically engaging, lyrically bitter as much as it is wry, setting the course for many similarly enthralling efforts. I confess I lost track of his later (i.e. more recent) work but I put that down to never really getting Love & Rockets and thereby losing track of what the chaps were doing. My loss, I am sure. Visit his website and hear his exquisite interpretation (with Jill Tracy) of ‘Bela.’
As compilations go this is a very good one, the original album taking up the first CD, the second full of unreleased alternative versions, home demos and…whisper it…The Sinister Ducks, with a fine booklet containing excellent notes by Andrew J Brooksbank, that highly knowledgeable cove, and memory-strewn details from David J. Haskins (for it is he!) himself.
So here we are. It’s 1983, he’s had the one collaboration with artist René Halkett on 4AD but this body of work cuts a juicier carcass, with ‘I Hear Only Silence Now’ gently coaxed into life, boasting a softly luminous guitar and tissue thin vocals handling wonderful lyrics (“you’re saying nothing, but you’re saying it too loud”) and remaining one step ahead of languid. The knobblier throb of ‘No Ones Sending Roses’ sees a bass epee swishing in the one song closest to Bauhaus, with some weedy sax sprawl.
‘The Fugitive’ is an orderly jumble laid bare, ‘Betrayal’ warm and serenely uplifting with a supremely confident vocal performance and wistful musical backing, assuming a gorgeous shape and strange commercial lustre. (Imagine if Suede had been interesting.)
‘Joe Orton\’s Wedding’ owns a fitting cabaret tiptap glee, ‘The Promised Land’ surveys his musical past of the time with angry reminiscences and a punky angst. ‘With The Indians Permanent’ pays its respects with cuter and coyer with filmic cheek, the sax distant, the noir vocal observations well to the fore. ‘Say Uncle’ skips and skitters through playful espionage, ‘Disease’ mooches like a leperous Bowie dream and the muted ‘Roulette’ is not unlike early brusque Al Stewart given a rosier flush.
‘Saint Jackie’ (nee Jacqué) closes the album with the sweetest alarm, the catchiest of them all, dominatrix imagery bouncing on the gently barbed pop.
It’s on the second disc that things get weird. ‘Diamonds From Rome To Milan’ is previously unreleased, once considered for Bauhaus but never proffered, like a soft holistic jazzy lullaby and there’s an unreleased single mix of ‘Saint Jackie’ which chimes dippily and goes reggae versiontastic.
‘A Seducer, A Doctor, A Card You Cannot Trust’ is also an unreleased single mix, lazily snapping and groaning artfully but the intriguing one is the full version of ‘The Gospel According To Fear’ which appears effortlessly endless, queasily rumbustious.
Then we hit some old 1979 demo recordings unearthed and salvaged. It’s not strictly a case of these never being heard before because they’re no good, although they’re certainly pretty messy. These are historical doodles! ‘Alternative 2’ is a twittering, gulping, faltering morass. ‘Limbo Land’ is well named, spacious and dawdling, rustling with occasional laboured vocals. ‘The Face Of Don Repo’ flaps shattered wings as miserable guitar flounders aimlessly, like a Qautermass outtake, and you will find your attention wandering. A ham-fisted ‘The Look’ has another flickering guitar base, genteel vocals washing in and out, and somehow the ramshackle oddity has great charm. ‘The Yes Man Who Said ‘No’’ is the closest we will ever get to hearing Elvis Costello having a breakdown.
‘Nothing’ and ‘Armour’, the tracks done with René Halkett are majestic, the music clashing discreetly behind Halkett’s extraordinary vocals, a voice bulging with experience like an ancient Andi Sex Gang. ‘Armour’ sounds like The Doors in an asylum! ‘Destiny’ is the final 1979 home demo, a yawning gloomy thing with a fuller shape and former vocal stamp. Not great but bearable and nicely odd. A demo of ‘With The Indians Permanent’ is a bit of a swaying monstrosity, while ‘Requiem For Joe’ is a mischievous relic, slow, sturdy and yet vibrant and strangely absorbing.
‘Point Of Departure’ is eerie in spectacular fashion, recorded when a radio play was turned on and the seriously creepy dialogue gives a harrowing air, which David started accompanying musically as it was happening! Then we hit total mental over drive with both sides of The Sinister Ducks single, ‘Old Gangsters Never Die’ and ‘March Of The Sinister Ducks’, proof positive that absence makes the ears grow fondness.
I hope more of his albums get this treatment, for there exists a body of work that would leave most pathologists happily baffled.