Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Random Record Review I: Killing Joke--Fire Dances

      In my effort to come up with some approach to keep myself writing, I thought that I might take up a bit of record reviewing.  Rather than looking at new records, however, I'm going to write reviews of records randomly chosen from my collection.  I'm not sure that it's going to translate into a lot of folks reading, but it seems like a good way of working on my writing skills as well as listening to records that might have been left moldering on the record shelves.  Additionally, it will renew my commitment to writing about music, which has dropped off a bit, lately.  My tentative plan is to turn this into a weekly exercise.  The first choice is the 1983 Killing Joke album, Fire Dances, and album that I am fairly certain was purchased from Cheapo Records in Minneapolis, although I probably couldn't tell you which of the stores in the chain it was purchased from.  I'm reviewing the LP version of the record, rather than the reissue with bonus tracks.  In any case, here goes....

      Truth be told, my engagement with Killing Joke as a band has been fairly limited.  I own this lp, an earlier album, and the cd reissue of the 1985 lp, Night Time.  Like a lot of other folks, I first heard Killing Joke on MTV's 120 Minutes, through the video for "Eighties", which is on Night Time, and is, fairly predictably, my favorite lp from the band.  My general impression is that this aesthetic choice identifies me as a fairly casual fan of the group, rather than someone in the inner circle of their 'fandom.'  From the little research that I have done on the band.  Fire Dances was released after a brief hiatus of the band, caused by singer Jaz Coleman and bassist Youth's escape to Iceland in order to "survive the apocalypse." (The election of Thatcher and the Falklands War seem about as reasonable as it gets for signs of the apoapocalypse, I guess.  The album also features a minor line-up change, as Youth was replaced by Paul Raven on bass.  In any case, let's move on to the music.

     To begin, the record fits fairly comfortably within post-punk generic conventions, which are admittedly fairly broad.  With the exception of the dance oriented, "Dominator", the songs are built on a fairly conventional vocals, guitar, bass, drum set up.  With the guitar and bass taking the same sort of melodic and distorted sound of bands such as Joy Division and early Siouxsie and the Bansheees. (Early Echo and the Bunnymen might even be a better reference than Joy Division.) It moves away from some of the denser, more metallic sounds that linked the earlier records of the band with the efforts of Amoebix amongst other acts, to a lighter and more open sound.  The drums break out of that tradition, though.  They're up in the mix, and are the most obvious reference to the sort of proto-industrial sound of the band, pushing towards the mixture of percussion and repetition that would dominate that particular form of dance music.   It also contributes to the communal feeling contained in the lyrics, which becomes explicit in the song "Let's All Go (To The Fire Dances" and is expressed through the chanted lyrics, "Move in on them" contained in the synth driven track, "Dominator."  (A track that seems to stand between DAF and the later work in Nitzer Ebb)  It's a communalism that is remains subcultural in nature, calling for gatherings of song, dance, and sex, rather than any sort of explicit political change. (They also feel a little bland, and Jaz Coleman's normally powerful and distinct vocals lose a little of both those qualities with the communalist effort.)

     Overall, it's a pretty decent record, and the songs do a pretty good job of holding your attention.  The lyrics aren't spectacular, but there's nothing particularly embarrassing in them.  Bass and Guitar provide fairly good texture and melody throughout the tracks, but I'm not a big fan of the drums at times, which fall into the kind of stiff rhythmic qualities that often define the electronic industrial dance music that was later influenced by this sort of sound.  It's unfortunate that the band didn't draw more explicitly on some of the dub influences that you could find in their earlier music.  The tracks that worked the best were the ones that stayed in the more conventional post-punk/rock that would define the band's next album, Night Time.  The one exception is the track, "Dominator", which managed to do the best job of linking the band's sound to the dance aesthetic than the others, which felt a bit forced at times.  (I'm particularly thinking about "Rejuvenation", but the first half of the album feels a little rhythmically forced.)  Additionally, there's a bit of a tendency for the songs to blend together.  Nothing stands out in the way that they do in some of the other albums.  To tell the truth, the album strikes me as a transition between the earlier albums, and the direction the band would take with Night Time and the albums of the late 1980's (which I haven't heard, but are evidently slightly boring in their attempt to repeat the success of Night Time with reduced results.)  So, I liked the record, and I don't see myself getting rid of it, but I also don't see it getting a lot of repeat play, either.

      I think I'll leave it there.  Hopefully, I will get to another random record choice some time next week.

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