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The Nostalgic Attic: When You Don't See Me - The Sisters of Mercy

12 July 2014

When You Don't See Me - The Sisters of Mercy



If you've been to a party in this house over the years, chances are you've had to listen to your fair share of The Sisters of Mercy. They were a band I got into around the same time as I was first listening to Joy Division, so it's no surprise they played a huge part in the formative years. And even though I was late enough to the goth-rock party, The Sisters second release, Floodland, is a definite Top Ten album for me. Bold words, for sure! We managed to catch them at Vicar St during the week, and as always, they put on a great show, despite the fact that it's hard to actually see them when they play...




Despite only releasing three albums over the course of 30-odd years, they still have a solid cult following. And when I say 'they', I mean founding member Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche, the never-resting drum machine who appeared on all releases. Coming out of the post-punk scene with a string of singles, they released their first album, First and Last and Always in 1984, before the other band members decided to split due to personality clashes, eventually going on to make up The Mission. The album is a great mix of guitar driven rock and goth sounds, something that sits somewhere between the more avant-garde stylings of Bauhaus and the pop-sensitive The Cure. It had the singles, Black Planet, the super-catchy Walk Away, and the moody Marian, including other live favourites such as A Rock and a Hard Place and the title track, too.

The sound changed drastically for the follow up release, Floodland. By this time, Eldritch was in complete control, and went for a more stripped down sound. Gone were the more punk-tinged guitars, and in came the lush keyboards, super-produced guitars, and backing female vocals. Normally this kind of behaviour would sound the death knell for most bands, but for some crazy reason, it works. For me it's one of those rare 'flawless' records, and once it starts it must be listened to all the way through. It's excessive, huge and sprawling in many ways, but that's what makes it work so well. the recording is lovely on it, with plenty of space in the minimal layers, resulting in a record that, although it sounds exactly like the year it was recorded, it hasn't actually aged badly at all. The driving drums and bass lines on the opening track, Dominion, and single, Lucretia my Reflection still sound fresh and huge, 28 years on.  This Corrosion is eleven minutes of excessively glorious dance madness, after which the album comes down with Flood II and Driven Like the Snow.



The final album, Vision Thing, is something of an anti-climax for me, despite it having some great tracks. The production seems quite dated, with the guitars taking over again, but without the same personality they had on earlier releases. It all seems a little flat to me, but then again, it might be how it was mixed on CD, I really can't say. When tracks get played live, however, I think they are brimming with life, much more so than on the album. At this point, Eldritch protested their label over lack of royalties being payed out, and refused to release anything until it was resolved. Sadly, despite getting released from their contract in the late 90's, they've still yet to do anything in a studio.

I guess the point is: at this stage, do they need to? Their sound is still locked into that late 80's production when playing live, as are any new songs they roll out during their shows. Is it better that they just exist as a live entity, as they are now, or to release a new album, attempting to pick up a history which they left off 24 years ago to a world that mostly wouldn't care anyway? They have dedicated fans all around the world, plenty who follow them around on their tours, so even if they demanded millions in a 'crowd funding' venture to record, no doubt they would get it. I think it all boils down to just wanting to keep that enigma alive; it's a part of what The Sisters of Mercy brand is about now - cryptic lyrics, fog drenched live shows, legendarily cranky front man - and really, who would want to change that?




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4 Comments:

At 12 July 2014 at 18:48 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I am so not a music guy. But this group certainly sounds interesting - if only for their crazy history. Of everyone and everything listed in this post - I've heard of The Cure.

 
At 13 July 2014 at 02:56 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, I think you would find these guys quite accessible - try out the Floodland album on youtube - I think you'd have plenty of reference points from that decade to dive right in there! You might enjoy it!

 
At 14 July 2014 at 05:14 , Blogger Wes M said...

This post has had me revisiting the Sisters this morning and a fine time I had too. It’s kind of amazing that they made such great vital music, the band always seemed to be tethering on the brink of collapse, but something like Marianne is just incredible, and I remember nights where this sulky 18 year old would sit in his room for hours listening to these records over and over again - that darkly romantic atmosphere, and Andrew Eldritch’s graveyard vocals which sound like no other in music. Listening to Eldritch this morning, it seemed to me that he has an almost machine-like quality to him, cold and dispassionate, otherworldly... I never really took to the goth scene – what I’ve heard of Christian Death or The Mission I disliked and none of those bands had the quality of the Sisters of Mercy in terms of song writing and sound... Of all the Stones covers I’ve hard over the years, the Sisters’ version of Gimme Shelter is my favourite… that mournful, lamenting guitar which really adds weight to the song’s theme, pure widescreen cinematic rock...

 
At 14 July 2014 at 09:42 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Excellent Wes, glad you to hear you are a big fan. Fully agreed with you on that dispassionate tone he has, I think it's what makes them stick for me, there's no false emotion there, just Eldritch being Eldritch. Not much of a goth fan myself, though I do go for the likes of Bauhaus and the cure, despite them having heavy goth labels hanging from them. Regarding those vocals, the only one who came close to this, was Pete Steele from Type O Negative, though no doubt he was heavily influenced from these guys, despite playing gloomy rock and goofy thrash. I could totally see Sisters doing Type O's 'My girlfriends Girlfriend', though, it has a very up tempo sound that has The Sisters written all over it.

That is indeed a great cover, I love it when a band can reinvent a track for you like that. The hallmarks of a classic cover I guess!

 

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