Eric Wahl

April 1998

So this is the music issue, eh? There's all the obvious choices out there to write about, and while I'm sure they're just fine, most of them didn't do much for me (okay, well, Pet Shop Boys' "Being Boring" and "Some Speculation" are exceptions, but Erasure? Erasure, please go away).

Perhaps no other current artist has done for me emotionally what the British singer Marc Almond has done. From his beginnings in Soft Cell (Are "Bedsitter" and "Numbers" not way better than "Tainted Love"?) through a myriad solo projects, Almond has refused to take an easily classifiable route in compiling his musical catalogue. He's done cabaret music, whomping disco, middle eastern-inspired stuff, and some remakes that are actually better than the source material ("You Only Live Twice," "Like A Prayer," "If You Go Away"). He has recorded several Jaques Brel songs, an album of songs inspired by French surrealist theorist Georges Bataille, dueted with Gene Pitney, Nico, Bronski Beat, and PJ Proby -- in addition to remaining ever-intrigued by the seedy sides of life all around the world. Almond's key fascinations still seem to be sex, death, and the gutter, with a heapful of faded glory in every mix. Many of his albums were long unavailable in the US (his most recent album, Fantastic Star, still is available only on import here -- but it's not his best work). His best work, arguably, is 1987's mondo-bizarro Mother Fist (And Her Five Daughters) -- the title song being a weirdly humorous paean to, err, masturbation. If you can survive the next two songs (the incredibly dark "There is a Bed" and the all-time-life-in-the-gutter-drunken-cabaret of "Saint Judy"), you're in for a rather enjoyable treat.

Almond loves the song-as-vignette format, and all his songs are little stories of people in various states of recklessness and/or desperation. This is not one of his more dance-oriented albums, but there are at least six danceable songs here. This is more of a concept album, in that it works best when listened to as a complete unit. Because it avoids the tacky synths that so plagued music of this time, the album avoids sounding dated. He uses a real band (!) and lots of accordion, mandolin, etc. The overall tone is one of weirdly upbeat melancholy (if that's possible). The videos for both "Melancholy Rose" (fantastic French accordion) and "Ruby Red" (mandolins in a dance song!) were banned by MTV for homoerotic content among other things, but you can get both on the newly reissued enhanced CD (came out two months ago in the US, I think). The songs on this album make me dream; they make me sad. They also make me sing along and bop around. To this day, "The River" is still just about my favorite song of all time with melancholy lines like" "And all those songs/That made me cry/Keep flooding back/And years of new discovery and you/Disturbing my dreams/Now we're flowing down that river/Heading for the Delta/I don't know which way to flow/But my heart's a forest fire/And yours a field of snow/I don't know which way to flow . . ."

Get this album and you'll get a song dedicated to the joys of masturbation, a song dedicated to a suicidal Judy Garland wanna-be, a sad hustler, a mysterious hooker, a washed-up boxer, a potential sea-side suicide from the P.O.V of the ocean, and more! (God, that doesn't sound very wholesome, kiddies, so don't tell your parents I forced you to get it!). For my money, it's a great album by an openly gay artist who refuses to be easily categorized. If I had to choose a second-favorite album by anyone, it would be one of his (The Stars We Are from 1988, which is more listener-friendly, I suppose, and includes the great "Bitter Sweet" and "Only the Moment"). If you get a chance to hear Mother Fist, you'll be a better person for having done it, you'll have whiter teeth, and strangers in shops will come up to you and tell you how good you smell. Well, they could, how do you know they won't?

At least go out and fill your remaining voids with The Smiths' The Queen is Dead and listen to "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" ten times every night before turning in.

As always, I appreciate the e-mail I get from everyone, thanks. May Spring spring something on you on. Something good, that is.


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