Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

51oXwJA++AL

Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

Naked Guitar HI Res

“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

Advertisements

Morning Music Funnies # 6 – (Kate Bush and Mr. Bean)

After The Beatles disbanded in 1970, a long estrangement began between the British and American music industries. No longer was it automatic that British superstars would be unconditionally loved by the American record buying public. In the late 70’s, Kate Bush achieved a level of fame and ubiquity that totally bypassed the American market. After her debut single “Wuthering Heights” hogged the number 1 spot for six straight weeks, Kate Bush’s image was inescapable. He picture was on busses, billboards and tabloids. Mainstream comedy shows had a field day doing parodies. And, though her early videos basically jump started the music video industry, the only sure path to mass exposure was Television. So Kate dutifully submitted to the ‘dog and pony’ show that included, a network Christmas Special, BBC documentaries and interviews, as well as the Euro talk show circuit. She was also sporting enough to do a bit on Comic Relief in 1986 with British comedy icon Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder, Mr. Bean).

At the close of the seventies, Kate Bush was a name brand recognized by every citizen in Western Europe and much of the civilized world. However in America, cult stardom was the best she could muster. It was reported that she boldly turned down an offer to open for Fleetwood Mac on a world tour during their most commercially successful period. Interesting to speculate how her careen might have turned if she had said yes. However, our Kate doesn’t ‘do’ second banana does she?

Debut Albums That Shook My World (Spotlight) Kate Bush “The Kick Inside”

By Dale Nickey:

Kate Bush (The Kick Inside)

Until Kate came along, you had to make do with archetypical female Rock artists. Janis Joplin was the unapologetically loud, horny, stoned, soul mama. Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro gave us our liberated, erudite, (Dylan with a vagina) fix. However, if a woman was too smokin’ hot, they were automatically relegated to the vacuous show-biz preserve where the Olivia Newton Johns and Juice Newtons reigned supreme.  Kate took a mortar and pestle and mashed up all the stereotypes.  She had a music geek’s appreciation for prog and an ethnomusicologist’s ear for British Folk.  On ‘Kick’ she took her Minnie Mouse soprano, formidable piano chops and applied them to subjects as diverse as menstrual cycles, suicide, incest, Lolita complexes and ghosts. She sang, wrote, played, danced and had an entire nation salivating at her teen feet.  After one jaw dropping European Tour,  she walked out of the machinery and opted for quiet domesticity and the occasional block buster album.  “The Kick Inside” is her first and best.  Kate denies it because it was the album she had least control of.  But, it will always remain her masterpiece. Every song is eye-watering, and wrapped in a package that launched a million masturbatory fantasies.

Kateophiles admire Bush’s alpha-fem independant streak as much as they do her music. EMI’s good old boys thought they knew better when it came time to select a single off her first album.  Kate would not be bullied and held out for “Wuthering Heights.”  It went number one and and stayed there for six weeks. On this performance from her only live tour, she inhabits the spirit of Cathy Earnshaw to a degree that is chilling and thrilling.

Lost Treasures – Kate Bush (Lionheart Revisited)

More Kate? click for >>> Hall of Kate   /  Kick Inside

Reviewed by Dale Nickey

Ok, here’s the party line on Kate Bush’s second album Lionheart.  It was the “difficult second album”;  rush released too soon after her stupendous debut, The Kick Inside. The material was under cooked,  it was recorded hastily.  It was a commercial disappointment. Lionheart has always been viewed as the gawky, homely sister to The Kick Inside.  It languishes in the same purgatory as Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Michael Jackson’s Bad.  Those were all albums that were tasked with following up a monster critical and commercial smash; too much to expect of any mortal record.

However, what if The Kick Inside had never existed, and Lionheart had been her debut? Take away the baggage  and the job of reviewing becomes a little more interesting.

Lionheart is not a perfect album yet its still a staggering achievement.  Had  it been the opening missive in Kate’s discography,  jaws would have still dropped just as far. This record is a potent example of the complexity of Kate Bush and her audacious voice, charisma and songs.  Had it been her debut, it may not have conferred upon her the instant mantle of “Icon” (as ‘Kick’ did), but that might have been a good thing.

Sure, Lionheart could have benefitted from more time in the bottle or… maybe not.  Kate had all the time in the world to worry over The Dreaming.  Was it a better record? I’ll let you know when I get around to listening to it as many times as I have Lionheart.  Lionheart is a grower that is unique in her canon. Every track on Lionheart earns and rewards repeated visitations.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The song “Wow” is a wonderful confection of fantasy/pop.  Equal parts torch ballad and bubblegum, it was a smart and successful single that could turn the heads of tabloid writers and music critics alike.  And “England, My Lionheart”, is quite simply one of the most beautiful and  unique melodies ever written.  Usually in pop song craft you can hear echoes of the familiar; even if the artist is stealing from him/herself.  This song exists on a different plane.  That the lyrics are penned by a teenage girl is stupefying and magical.  Why this song hasn’t been declared Britain’s national anthem is beyond me.  It still might someday.

The epic “Hammer Horror” could be the subject of an entire review unto itself. By 1978, the term “Rock Opera” had become devalued currency.  “Hammer Horror”  is definitely a rock opera (albeit a tightly compressed and edited version of the form).  Kate whispers, wails, moans and rumbles like both a siren and natural woman.  She’s got some burr in her saddle in the form of a stalker, ex-boyfriend, ghost, or some unholy permutation of the three.  Whatever happened, it’s now an ever-present nightmare of the soul.  The tinkling piano ending turns the neat trick of being pretty and dissonant at the same time. The delayed reaction gong crash signals a melodramatic end to a brilliant and melodramatic record, and the cover art will rock your world.

Elsewhere, things get more eclectic and esoteric. “Coffee Homeground” courts Cabaret and Broadway and elevates both forms.  Lead track, “Symphony In Blue” evokes a heavenly cocktail mix of Carol King on ecstasy and helium.  On this album, even more than The Kick Inside, Kate takes her voice to its full, death defying limits.  Many argue it takes listeners to their limits as well.  Like Dylan, Kate’s voice is her signature, money maker, and albatross all rolled into one.  One must come to the party prepared to marvel at her athleticism and then dig deep into the music itself.  The rewards are there.  Kate Bush is not a passive listen. We’ve got Sade for that.  No, Lionheart is a three ring circus of emotion, estrogen and technique.  And you know what?  EMI put it out at just the right time.  I’m glad we got two albums documenting Kate’s eloquent, teen dream genius.  Soon our little girl would all grow up to be a woman. Lionheart didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a matter of the paint on her masterpiece hadn’t quite dried yet.

Lionheart Revisited (Kate Bush album review)

Reviewed by: Dale Nickey

Ok, here’s the party line on Kate Bush’s second album Lionheart. It was the “difficult second album”, rush released too soon after her stupendous debut, The Kick Inside. The material was under cooked, it was recorded hastily. It was a commercial disappointment. Lionheart has always been viewed as the gawky, homely sister to The Kick Inside. It languishes in the same purgatory asFleetwood Mac’s Tusk and Michael Jackson’s Bad. Those were all albums  tasked with following up a monster critical and commercial smash; too much to expect of any mortal record.

However, what if The Kick Inside had never existed, and Lionheart had been her debut? Take away the baggage, and the job of reviewing becomes a little more interesting.

Lionheart is not a perfect album yet it’s still a staggering achievement. Had it been the opening missive in Kate’s discography, jaws would have still dropped  at the innovations of Kate Bush and her audacious voice, charisma and songs. It may not have conferred upon her the instant mantle of “Icon” (as ‘Kick’ did), but that might have been a good thing.

Sure, “Lionheart” could have benefitted from more time in the bottle. Or… maybe not. Kate had all the time in the world to worry over The Dreaming. Was it a better record? I’ll let you know when I get around to listening to it as many times as I have “Lionheart”.  Lionheart is a grower that is unique in her canon. Every track earns and rewards repeated visitations.

The song “Wow” is a wonderful confection of fantasy/pop. Equal parts torch ballad and bubblegum, it was a smart and successful single that could turn the heads of tabloid writers and music critics alike. And “England, My Lionheart” is quite simply one of the most beautiful and unique  melodies ever written. Usually in pop song-craft you can hear echoes of the familiar; even if the artist is stealing from him/herself. This song exists on a different plane. That the lyrics are penned by a teenage girl is stupefying and magical. Why this song hasn’t been declared Britain’s national anthem is beyond me. It still might someday.

The epic “Hammer Horror” could be the subject of an entire review unto itself. By 1978, the term “Rock Opera” had become devalued currency. “Hammer Horror” was definitely a rock opera (albeit a tightly compressed and edited version of the form). Kate whispers, wails, moans and rumbles like both a siren and natural woman. She’s got some burr in her saddle in the form of a stalker, ex-boyfriend, ghost, or some unholy permutation of the three. Whatever happened, it’s now an ever-present nightmare of the soul. The tinkling piano ending turns the neat trick of being pretty and dissonant at the same time. The delayed reaction gong crash signals a melodramatic end to a brilliant and melodramatic record. And the cover art will rock your world.

Elsewhere, things get more eclectic and esoteric. “Coffee Homeground” courts Cabaret and Broadway and elevates both forms. Lead track, “Symphony In Blue” evokes a heavenly cocktail mix of Carol King on ecstasy and helium. On this album, even more than The Kick Inside, Kate takes her voice to its full, death-defying, four octave limits. Many argue it takes listeners to their limits as well. Like Dylan, Kate’s voice is her signature, money-maker, and albatross all rolled into one. One must come to the party prepared to marvel at her athleticism and then dig deep into the music itself. The rewards are there. Kate Bush is not a passive listen. We’ve got Sade for that. No, “Lionheart” is a three-ring circus of emotion, estrogen and technique. And you know what? EMI put it out at just the right time. I’m glad we got two albums documenting Kate’s eloquent, teen dream genius. Soon our little girl would all grow up to be a woman. “Lionheart” didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a matter of the paint on her masterpiece hadn’t quite dried yet.