Monday, February 20, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #146

Since the band had been built on the foundation of a former XTC keyboardist and a one-time Gang Of Four bassist, it was no surprise that Shriekback's earliest independent singles found receptive ears on UK dance floors.  Their rather unusual sound was part New Wave, part funk; slinky melodies that burrowed into your brain as they slithered over and under vocals that sounded more breathed than sung, all propelled by pulsing bass and busy percussion designed to keep bodies in motion.

Barry Andrews (the keyboardist) and Dave Allen (the bass player) recruited guitarist Carl Marsh to form the original Shriekback lineup in 1981. This trio released the six-song Tench EP, which included early singles "Sexthinkone" and "Accretions," both of which garnered both critical praise and minor chart action.  They followed that in 1983 with Care, one of the most under-appreciated gems of the New Wave era.  Leading with the gorgeous "Lined Up," Care takes the listener on a trip through a dimly lit maze of electronica and rhythmic ambiance that hints at darker things but stops short of plunging over the edge.  There is a constant tension that begs to be resolved and teases that resolution before fading into vague shadows and echoes. "Accretions" is reprised and the single "My Spine (Is The Bassline)" is added on the American version of the album, but neither detracts from the flow.  It's an album you can easily get lost in, and highly recommended.  Both Tench and Care are found in their entirety on a 2000 CD called The Y Records Years, but that disc is out of print and commands a pretty penny.  The vinyl can be had for much cheaper on eBay.

1984's Jam Science saw the band move to a major label (Arista) and expand to a quartet with the addition of drummer Martyn Baker.  The lead single, "Hand On My Heart," was the perfect appetizer for the full LP. On it, Shriekback sounded more confident and poised without losing that sense of eeriness that pervaded their early work.  It's a fine album that made perfect sense as the next step after Care. The overall album is not as visceral or as memorable, but "Hand On My Heart" stands alongside their indy singles with no problems.

Their next album, Oil And Gold, continued the band's progression from underground critics' choice to international hitmakers, thanks to the muscular single "Nemesis."  Even more than Jam Science, this is a one-single record, but what a single! Andrews' hissing vocals are still there to lend a shroud of potential danger, but where once was slippery, ethereal melody there was now insistent, no-punches-pulled power.  "Nemesis" became their biggest hit, and will forever be remembered for rhyming its title with spelling-bee stumper "parthenogenesis."

After that peak, though, came the inevitable fall.  1986's Big Night Music wasn't that bad, but had no key single that really drove it as the previous two records had.  Arista was trying to make Shriekback a commercial success, and was slowly stripping the band of its personality.  Go Bang!, released two years later, has very little to recommend it.  Shriekback's demise was sealed with that album's completely unnecessary cover of "Get Down Tonight."  Hard to believe the band that did this was the same band that recorded Care just five years previous.

Since then, Shriekback has reunited a few times in various permutations, releasing a few innocuous albums along the way, but nothing that came close to their early magnificence.  That's what we'll remember with this weeks clips.  First up is "Lined Up," the leadoff track from the marvelous Care.  After that, Shriekback's most well-known track, "Nemesis."  Enjoy!

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