Monday, April 30, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #151

Claiming influences as varied as The Birthday Party, Motörhead, and Leonard Cohen, The Sisters Of Mercy came together in England as the '70s turned to the '80s.  Through a troubled and sporadic recording career that spanned  a decade yet only resulted in three proper albums, The Sisters Of Mercy created some starkly memorable, deeply moody music that often gets lumped in with the Goth scene but was much more than that.  Yes, you can hear the echoes of Peter Murphy's horror-flick pretensions in Andrew Eldritch's rumbling growl, but there are equal parts Jim Morrison rock-n-roll preening and Nick Cave swagger mixed in as well.  Their music verged at times on pseudo-psychedelia, rocked hard when they so chose, and could become the stuff of nightmares with surprising ease.

The Sisters Of Mercy began to gather steam through a series of early singles including "Alice" and "Temple Of Love," as well as The Reptile House EP, all of which were recorded by the group's original lineup: Eldritch on vocals, Gary Marx and Ben Gunn on guitars, Craig Adams on bass and a drum machine they named Doktor Avalanche.  In 1983, shortly after "Temple Of Love" was released, Gunn left the band due to personality conflicts with Eldritch, and was replaced by former Dead Or Alive guitarist Wayne Hussey as the band recorded their first full-length album, First And Last And Always, released in early 1985. Bolstered by outstanding tracks like "Black Planet" and "Walk Away," the album found a receptive audience at home in the UK and became an underground hit here in the States.  They toured in support of the LP, but during the tour Gary Marx quit, blaming an inability to get along with Eldritch (you may notice a pattern emerging here).

Unphased by Marx's departure, Eldritch, Adams, and Hussey went to work on recording their next album, but soon found themselves at odds over which tracks would make the cut.  With a partial album in the can, Adams and Hussey walked out.  The pair intended to rechristen themselves The Sisterhood, but Eldritch beat them to the punch by releasing his own record under that name.  Adams and Hussey then settled on the less provocative name The Mission and began doing their own thing.

Having thwarted the usurping of his band name in any form, Eldritch enlisted bassist Patricia Morrison, formerly of The Gun Club, and in 1987 released the second Sisters Of Mercy album, Floodland. Eldritch may have been difficult to work with, but he sure knew how to make great records!  Floodland was a bit heavier than First And Last And Always, but was every bit as good - if not better.  "This Corrosion" and "Lucretia My Reflection" found regular airplay on college radio and MTV, and were legitimate chart-toppers back home in the UK.  "This Corrosion" remains the best track in The Sisters Of Mercy catalog; a searing rocker that crossed playlists from punk to metal to hard rock with an irresistible "hey now, hey now now" chorus that stays lodged in your brain for days. Brilliant.

Morrison soon went on her way (I'll leave it to you to guess why), and Eldritch went about reassembling his band.  This time he brought in two guitarists, Andreas Bruhn and Tim Bricheno, and enlisted Tommy James (formerly of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik) to play bass.  Loyal drum machine Doktor Avalanche remained the only "band member" to last with Eldritch from the beginning.  This group issued 1990's Vision Thing LP.  A bit more sprawling and unrestrained (the lead single, "More," runs over eight minutes!) but just as good, the album unfortunately got lost in the dust of a squabble between the band and their record label.  Eldritch soon announced The Sisters Of Mercy were going on strike, and would not record again until WEA released them from their contract.

The label went ahead and issued Some Girls Wander By Mistake, a 1992 import-only collection of the first lineup's singles, but The Sisters Of Mercy held their ground and never recorded again (even though finally in 1997 WEA officially released the band from their contract).  Instead, The Sisters Of Mercy have continued on as a strictly live band - mainly Eldritch and whomever he recruits for each tour.  Over the years they have introduced several new songs in their live sets.  Perhaps one day we'll get a proper collection of them released on CD.

Until then, here are a pair of The Sisters Of Mercy's shining moments:  the first album's "Black Planet" and the magnificent "This Corrosion."  Enjoy!

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