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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

28. Shriekback: Oil And Gold

I've said before that the musical heyday for my ears was 1985/1986. You've already read about The Cure's The Head On The Door, The Smiths' The Queen Is Dead, and The Cult's Love...and there are many more reviews to come, as it was during this time when lesser-known underground bands began gracing mainstream ears. Today, I highlight an obscure and very underrated album from 1985 that finally gets a facelift this the form of a remastered 2CD edition including B-sides and live tracks. It's one of my absolute favorites...Oil And Gold by the band Shriekback.

In 1981, former XTC keyboardist Barry Andrews and former Gang Of Four bassist Dave Allen joined guitarist/vocalist Carl Marsh to create Shriekback. After 3 years of marginal dance chart success and label hopping Shriekback made Martyn Barker an official band member (he had signed on as drummer to help with the previous recording) and recruited the ubiquitous ex-Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds...thereby adding muscle to the somewhat tinny dance sounds of the previous albums Care (1983) and Jam Science (1984). The result is an eclectic mix of jungle-thumping dance music (slinking into punk rock when Lu Edmonds is involved). That's the overall feel of the album, however, the band weaves four beautifully sinister pillow-soft ballads into the fabric. The album succeeds despite the fact that Carl Marsh left the band midway through the recording (Barry Andrews took over the vocal duties). It flows smoothly from track one to track ten.

Oil And Gold opens with the 1-2-3 punch of "Malaria", "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (borrowing the title from the short story by Flannery O'Connor), and "Fish Below The Ice" (all sung by Marsh). These are followed by two of the slower songs "This Big Hush" and "Faded Flowers" (Incidentally, director Michael Mann was a Shriekback fan, and used "This Big Hush" is his 1986 thriller Manhunter...the first to feature the serial killer Hannibal Lecter. He also used "Faded Flowers" in Band Of The Hand). Both (sung by Andrews) are tremendous songs nestled in perfectly amongst the higher octane tracks.

Then comes "Nemesis", Shriekback's most well-known song. Based upon the Nemesis hypothesis first proposed in 1984, it states that a hypothetical dwarf star is out there orbiting the sun and that it gets a little too close every 26 million years causing mass extinctions. "Nemesis", the song, sounds like our party theme the night before it all hits the fan. It's big and brash, and it sounds like nothing Shriekback had done before. It's a great song that showcases the intelligence of Shriekback's lyrics as well. Name another band that rhymes "parthenogenesis" successfully in a recurring chorus.

Shriekback are still around producing wonderful music (welcome back Carl Marsh). And again, this, in fact...the 2CD edition of Oil And Gold is released giving this great 1985 album the extra attention it deserves. The original disc is remastered and a second CD contains B-sides and live tracks. Here is the video for "Nemesis". It's safe to say we won't be around for the next cycle of mass extinction (at least according to the Nemesis hypothesis), but if I get word that something major is going down, this song will be on my turntable.

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