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Reissue CDs Weekly: Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution

Reissue CDs Weekly: Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution

Suitably monumental salute to the cobwebbed, dark and uncomfortable

Unambiguously looking the part for goth: Alien Sex Fiend’s Mr and Mrs FiendCherry Red Records

In February 1983, New Musical Express ran a cover feature categorising what it termed “positive punk”. Bands co-opted into this ostensibly new trend were Blood & Roses, Brigandage, Danse Society, Rubella Ballet, Sex Gang Children, Southern Death Cult, The Specimen, UK Decay and The Virgin Prunes. Writer Richard North – a member of Brigandage – said the unifying factors were “mystical/metaphysical imagery”, “the sub-world of Crowleyan abyss” and personal style taking in backcombing, blue hair, long black skirts, red trousers and bootlace ties. The Doors were, he said, an influence. So were Siouxsie & The Banshees and Adam & The Ants.

Most of the bands North mentioned crop up on the new box set Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution 1978–1986. As a label, positive punk never caught on but the as-yet widely unadopted goth did instead. London’s Batcave – which The Specimen opened in July 1982 – was already a showcase venue for the music. There was also a figurehead band, Bauhaus, whose first single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” had been issued in September 1979. In October 1982, they charted with their version of Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” – explicitly linking whatever it was they were part of back to the pre-punk, glam-rock era.

Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution 1978–1986As the first box set to comprehensively wrestle with – at times curiously – the music which became goth and laid the ground for it, Silhouettes & Statues is an important release. It also shines a light on ingredients crucial to what came later: for bands such as Evanescence, HIM, My Chemical Romance, the development of emo and the market addressed by the blatantly commercial American chain store Hot Topic. Goth has never gone away and this package is essential to understanding the foundations underpinning the sub-culture and for rock history in general.

Defining goth – death rock in America – is an inexact science. The first band just-about self-described thus were Luton punks UK Decay – as “punk gothique” in a September 1981 Sounds feature – but pinpointing goth's entry into common parlance as a label is vexed, and Silhouettes & Statues’ liner notes make no attempt to address this.

Fittingly, across the five discs and 83 tracks musical coherence is not always apparent. The Legendary Pinks Dots, equal parts Cabaret Voltaire and Middle Eastern-edged psychedelia, battle it out with Public Image Limited’s krautrock/dub-influenced “Flowers of Romance”. Although the package’s non-analytical opening essay ties itself in knots attempting to delineate goth, for Silhouettes & Statues it ultimately comes down to mood – the darkness shared by Joy Division and Cocteau Twins, both of whom are compiled.

Silhouettes & Statues gene loves jezebelRetrospective genre classification is endemic to the collector and rock-crit worlds and the earliest tracks are from 1978, firmly within punk’s time-line brackets. Then, Penetration were a boundary pushing punk band but as their album track “Stone Heroes” is included they are therefore anointed as goth. It is incumbent on genre-specific box sets to push envelopes of delineation and Silhouettes & Statues does this in spades.

Setting the scene, Disc One begins with Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”. Beyond being an arresting opening, the choice blurs the boundary between notions of post-punk and goth. This malleability is reinforced by The Birthday Party’s “Release the Bats” coming next. After that, “Rema-Rema “ by future Ant Marco Pironni’s 1979 band of the same name. None of these three are unequivocally goth, but here they are. Unaccountably, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, the track which defined and defines goth is not included. Instead, Bauhaus are represented by “Stigmata Martyr”.

Of course, it’s easier with bands like Alien Sex Fiend, Dead Can Dance and Fields Of The Nephilim. They fit the 1982-and-after timeline: i.e. from when goth was branded as the flipside to the new romantic scene. They unambiguously look and sound the part too. Mostly, then, Silhouettes & Statues is about what would be expected. Alien Sex Fiend, The Birthday Party, The Cure, Gene Love Jezebel (pictured above left), The March Violets, The Mission, The Sisters Of Mercy and Southern Death Cult are all here. It is good to see The Damned’s 1980 album track “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” included.

Siouxsie & The Banshees, whose influence is never far, are not included. No reason is given for this and it should have been, but this is presumably due to licensing restrictions. Not to worry, UK Decay’s “The Black Cat” is strongly Banshees flavoured. Also not here are the similarly impactful Killing Joke – ironic, as 1919’s “Caged”, on Disc Two, may as well be a Killing Joke outtake. Danse Society are missing too, as are perennially overlooked Londoners Wasted Youth. Lords Of The New Church would have been an interesting contributor as they were integral to taking goth to America. The Stones Roses' 1986 Southern Death Cult-influenced debut single “So Young” could have been another worthy choice.

Silhouettes & Statues Danielle DaxThis is a large part of the fun of box sets – pondering the messages inherent in what is not compiled. Whither Marc Almond’s Marc & Mambas? Also absent on the Brit-focussed Silhouettes & Statues are America’s pioneering and initially superb Christian Death, Germany’s X-Mal Deutschland and the raft of Italian Ants/ Banshees-influenced bands such as The Gags, Mittageisen and X-Rated.

As a talking point, Silhouettes & Statues more than does its job. It is also a lovely, crisply and well-designed casebound package which compliments the opening essay with a track-by-track commentary, around a quarter of which comes from band members. Some editorial oversight would have been good as infelicities have slipped through: the picture of John Lydon is from first album-period PIL rather than the Flowers of Romance era; describing Punishment Of Luxury as post-punk is off base as the band formed in 1975; repetitiously, too many of the individual track entries begin with the words “Formed in…”; The Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch is given as “Eldrith”; Clock DVA are down as “Cock DVA”. Furthermore, consideration of the music itself in the individual biographical entries would have been welcome.

With the Banshees, Killing Joke and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” AWOL, Silhouettes & Statues - A Gothic Revolution 1978–1986 is not definitive, but whatever the issues raised it is a bold, hugely enjoyable box set dedicated to the ground floor of a music which remains a stylistic choice for new bands and, to varying degrees, has fed into the make-up of mainstream staples Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga. Anyone, goth-inclined or not, will find much to get their teeth into.

Hit picks: Balaam & The Angel’s overtly Cocteau Twins-esque “Darklands”, The Rose of Avalanche’s grand “LA Rain”, Danielle Dax’s (pictured above right),intense, unhinged “Bed Caves”, The Bolshoi’s churning “By the River” and “Angel of Violence”, Brigandage’s tip of the hat to the Velvet Underground.

Comments

The NME journo who wrote the Feb '83 Positive Punk piece was not, as yu write, Richard Cook, but Richard North. I should know - I am he (North was a pen name.) I'd appreciate an amendment. Thanks. Kind regards.

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