Thursday, 25 October 2012
93 Friends - The Bolshoi
Purchased : July 1988
Tracks : A Way / Modern Man / Someone's Daughter / Sunday Morning / Looking For A Life To Lose / Romeo In Clover / Books On The Bonfire / Pardon Me / Fat And Jealous / Waspy
This was one of two LPs bought from a stall on Ashton market one lunchtime.
Here we pick up The Bolshoi's story again after a three year gap. This was their second (and first full length) album released in 1986 and containing their near-hit "A Way". Despite not making the charts the band were garnering some publicity with a heavy touring schedule and videos on The Chart Show. The press wasn't always favourable. Part of the problem was categorisation, their sound falling somewhere between C86 and The Mission. They also had the misfortune to come from Trowbridge and so fell victim to the age-old prejudice against bands emerging from outside tthe main urban hotbeds.
Trowbridge in fact does pervade their music which provides a snapshot of smalltown England in a way not seen in pop since Jethro Tull. " A Way" , their best song and the major spur to buying this album, is a good example concerning the malicious gossip following the town bike around after she gets married . The music is swaggering Goth-pop powered by Jan Kalicki's drums and with Trevor Tanner throwing the right Banshees shapes on his guitar. It's also one of his better vocals less sneery than usual despite the subject matter. Paul Clark's keyboards contributions are simple but effective and the chorus soars. Definitely one that got away.
The quality immediately slips with "Modern Man" on which Tanner's echoing guitar work is strongly reminiscent of The Passions' ( far superior ) The Swimmer. The song which appears to be about struggling to live up to macho stereotypes chugs away with purpose and some neat touches like the banjo flourishes but lacks a strong tune without which Tanner's camp asides ( prefiguring Jarvis Cocker ) are irritating.
"Someone's Daughter" is similarly a melodically weak song about inadequacy. It starts out interestingly enough with some churning synthesiser work but then turns into a poor attempt at Killing Joke with the "Can you see her " backing vocals very similar to the hookline of Wardance. It's all bluster and no bite.
"Sunday Morning" was another flop single despite getting Single of the Week in Smash Hits.
It's clearly aimed at commercial success with Clark picking out a simple piano medley and Tanner strumming along on acoustic ( a sound not unlike John Foxx's Europe After The Rain ) while Kalicki is restricted to passive timekeeping with rimshots. It's attractive but lacks a sufficient hook and the song says little new about relgious hypocrisy.
"Looking For A Life To Lose " is the most aggressive rock track and not too far away from Boy-era U2. It helps prove that Tanner is a better , more versatile guitarist than he is a singer. The lyrics are satirical about the glamour of faux-depression amongst provincial youngsters and come perilously close to mocking their core audience - "Down the barbers things are bad". It loses its way a little after Tanner's Twilight-esque guitar solo but it's one of the better tracks.
Side Two starts off with "Romeo In Clover" a rather unpleasant song about a killer of prostitutes from a wealthy family ( prefiguring American Psycho ). The intro is an interesting mix of feeback howls and jangling percussion similar to Peter Gabriel's No Self Control but the song proper again seems like a poor cousin to Killing Joke.
"Books On The Bonfire" was another barely noticed single in 1986. There's a strong nod to Siouxsie and the Banshees' The Staircase in the circular guitar riff and waltz time but it has the best chorus on the LP. The lyrics are interesting but hard to fit together with references to reactionary nostalgia, paedophilia - "You can beat my brains but don't kiss me again" - and extreme self-flagellation - "I'm a truculent bigot I revel in scum".
On "Pardon Me" they set up a prowling groove then forget to graft a song on to it. The lyrics ( real back-of-a-fag packet stuff ) are half-spoken by Tanner , sounding oddly like The Divine Comedy in places. Some moronic backing vocals don't help matters. The guitar work on the instrumental passages is half-interesting but no compensation.
"Fat And Jealous" mixes glam rock stomp with Adam and the Ants' Antmusic on a song that seems to be taking a pop at their crtics . It's alright but doesn't prove anybody wrong.
That leaves us with "Waspy" , a weird song about capturing and torturing a wasp almost certainly influenced by Iain Banks's The Wasp Factory. I probably find it more compelling than I should because I've got a phobia of the buggers. The song is a sparse slow grind
with Tanner producing some interesting noises from his guitar to simulate the buzzing of the insect. The coda to the song with its pauses and treated voices is quite scary.
So it's a step-up from "Giants" but still doesn't turn their apparent potential into essential listening. It didn't chart and while far worse albums have fared better that's not quite an injustice.