Mundane By Day, Inane At Night (On Early Sisters Of Mercy)
As documented on the posthumous compilation Some Girls Wander By Mistake, the group that was already history by the time another thing called The Sisters Of Mercy made the first of several not very interesting albums issued under that banner was a true one-off. Imagine. It’s 1980. You’re in Leeds 6: more specifically Hyde Park, the original English Deer Park for troubled wannabohemian student-artists. All around you in your terraced, redbrick game reserve is the austere, gawky (un)orthodoxy of the movement (for once I’ll ditch the inverted commas) that gave us Gang Of Four, Mekons, Scritti, Delta 5 et al. But, great as all that Spartan stuff is, you’re in love with the wantonness of the rock’n’roll lie – though you know very well that is is a lie – and what you want to hear is some kind of unholy, incompetent hybrid of The Stooges, Suicide and Joy Division. You have no wish to become embroiled in discussions about whether or not a particular guitar sound is sexist. So you go ahead and make your unholy hybrid, using an eight-track studio in Bridlington owned by a man called Ken. And you appear on stage caked in dry ice, black leather and mirror sunglasses while your contemporaries are fretting about whether it’s OK to change one’s shirt before one plays. Nobody who is anybody has the slightest idea what to do with you, not the Leeds 6 gamekeepers nor the London flock, who are at the time too busy comparing cummerbunds to care. But the people who actually like music, to wit The Kids and John Peel, they fucking love it. The hipsters continue to ignore you like a fart in a delicatessen, but you sell more records than all of the hipsters put together. On your own label. And, exactly like Messrs Osterberg, Vega and Curtis before you (or maybe not Curtis, but it’d be nice to think so) you understand and celebrate that the thing you do is as ridiculous as it is deadly serious. And that’s part of why people like you, and of why you’re so good. The rest of why you’re so good is your group’s unique sound, which takes the skeletal, toppy approach of the first Associates album – the one they (wrongly) disowned as “baby music” – and infects it with the kind of dumb, decayed-glamour rock’n’roll bullshit that is about as diametrically opposed to the Associates aesthetic as it’s possible to be. But because you’re a canny enough cunt to know that it both is and isn’t all a big fucking joke, and lest things become even more pompous and ludicrous than they already have, you decide that The Sisters Of Mercy will never have a drummer, a genius move at once commercially suicidal and artistically inspired, for it ensures that the act will never become proper, Stateside-stadia-full-of-cretins, successful. Instead, you employ a drum machine (in truth, rather like Lassie, a series of drum machines) called Doktor Avalanche. Doktor Avalanche Mark One, who features here, is a rudimentary, clattery sort of a thing. But he doesn’t touch the rider all night and he never goes out of time, and in his minimal way he rocks every bit as hard as his older cousin who Cabaret Voltaire employed for Nag Nag Nag, if not quite as Heath Robinson as the ancient Bentley that Arthur Brown used on Kingdom Come’s Journey (1973). And then you make this handful of strange, unclassifiable records (in truth, the 7”s Body Electric / Adrenochrome (1982), Alice / Floorshow and Temple Of Love / Heartland (both 1983) are all you need to know, perseverant reader). But before long your seemingly unimportant junior guitarist leaves and it all very quickly turns to shit. Give or take This Corrosion, of course. Sic transit gloria mundi.
(Irrelevant postscript: by accident, Bear ended up supporting the nth incarnation of the Sisters in the tiny upstairs room of the Fenton, on the periphery of – where else? – Leeds 6, one night in the summer of 1995. They were warming up for a short European tour with the Sex Pistols. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the nineties was a very strange decade.)