Now specialising solely in the reissuing of their vast and highly impressive back catalogue across a variety of formats and packaging Beggars Arkive have served up a lavish dessert with Love and Rockets The Albums 1985-1996. Clearly a no expense spared exercise to bring this often-overlooked jewel in their crown back from vinyl wilderness.
Utilising the specialist skills of Abbey Road mastering engineer Sean Magee for this set, Magee has an extremely impressive track record winning a Grammy for his work on the 2009 series of Beatles remasters.
Kick starting with 1985’s psychedelic tinged debut Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, Magee has injected this record with a whole new lease of life, offering the listener a brand new aural experience from its first outing all those years ago. Lifting high the once subtle keys resting beneath a bed of guitars, bass, drums and vocals on the original master, this is particularly evident on the roaring DogEnd of a Day Gone By, similarly its Kevin Haskins’ thunderous drumming twinned with David J’s sonorous bass on this number that has benefitted from Magee’s craftsmanship. Littered with glam and psychedelic influences throughout both musically and lyrically Love and Rockets after all were well aware that they had a job on their hands to discard that heavy black shroud that many had assumed them to retain following the news of their formation. Embracing influence rather than shying away from it Syd Barrett is in here as are late period Beatles, the glam of ’72 period Roxy Music also evident, sometimes it’s not so obvious within the offered musical palette but lyrically its very much on point. The sparsely arranged sprawling title track for example is littered with tiny little gems, subtle embellishments once hidden deep under the swath of Daniel Ash’s e-bow that still fortunately dominates it. The lush string arrangement scored by studio owner and producer John A. Rivers on the gorgeous instrumental closer Saudade is simply sublime, Magee ensures maximum listening pleasure here.
Heavy touring stateside since their inception resulted in an early domestic U.S. release for their second album, the rocking <<Express>> here lovingly restored to where it should be – back on vinyl of course.
The inaugural notes of Ash’s saxophone that bring It Could Be Sunshine back to life are proof indeed that Rivers was an ever so important ingredient in shaping this early Love and Rockets sound, together with the channel bouncing of J and Ash as alternate vocalists really shine here and indeed similarly on the rolling Kundalini Express (a firm live favourite and I recall the bands former sound engineer Pete ‘Plug’ Edwards once telling me that he loved mixing the live sound for this one…why Pete? “because I could make them sound like Status Quo!”). A radical direction change from their debut saw the band utilizing a tougher edged guitar sound, this newly minted edition seems somewhat ‘harder’ than it once was whilst still employing the swirling Barrett-isms, these are particularly evident on the opening number (It Could Be Sunshine). But its most definitely the epic Kundalini Express that Magee has worked his magic with here. The reoccurring whistles that signal the chugging “express” to begin its journey as it thunders along the tracks littered throughout the refrain, hidden deep amongst the Sympathy for the Devil style “ooh-oohs” is something to cherish indeed. All in my Mind sees Ash take up a magnificent solo lead vocal but its perhaps the occasional multi tracking of that voice and the gorgeous backing vocals that have now appeared from nowhere to suddenly dominate this track to stunning effect. The manic Yin and Yang (the Flowerpot Man) opens side two, a terrific slice of alternate rock, one can feel as well as hear Ash frantically switch 12 string to 6 string and back again amongst the cacophony whilst Haskin’s provides an incredible, rhythmically faultless and precise heartbeat, J steers and drives the track with an underbelly of melodic heavy low notes. This is the sound Love and Rockets at their very best. The engaging of a three-voice choir for the beautiful refrain of An American Dream was a master stroke and that master stroke has been lifted to another level here by Magee, quite possibly the defining moment of <<Express>>.
Shape shifting once again for the third title in the box 1987’s Earth-Sun-Moon. Leaving behind (for now at least) the dominating guitars of <<Express>> to adopt a back-to-basics acoustic trip though soul searching. Mirror People, Ash’s paean to the vanity of youth kicks of proceedings, very much driven by J’s bass, this, the single ‘rock’ number on ESM would be given an overhaul within a year or so but for now this feels very meek and mild given the onslaught that was to come with this number. The Light however has so much more to say, a very busy track laced with multiple guitars, e-bow and harmonica (a harmonica on a Love and Rockets record!) courtesy of David J, digging deep into his love of the blues to produce a thrilling centrepiece.
The channel balancing of the Ash/J vocal on Welcome Tomorrow is a nice touch, a simple repetitive twelve string strum throughout paving the way for a haunting keyboard motif and bass led refrain. No New Tale to Tell, a huge alternative hit at the time of course put Love and Rockets firmly on the map, the simple semi acoustic D, F, C, A repeating chord sequence once echoed with an electric surcharge hints a little toward Lou Reed’s Kill Your Sons but far less threatening. It’s easy to see why this one stole the show though. Slowly building layer upon layer, Mel Thorpe’s manic, agitated flute for example succeeds in some way taking the listener away from the direction of song, driving it up an altogether different road before resettling on its tried and trusted chord sequence.
Ash’s love of ‘50’s rock and roll is very evident on the Gene Vincent-esque Lazy, a simple lyric fused with an equally simple descending rock and roll guitar riff but, and this is the real beauty of remastering, a jittery keyboard pattern now takes on a whole new resonance, working alongside Kevin Haskins ‘tea service’ kit purchased from the local Oxfam shop near Rockfield studios (ESM birth pace) in Monmouth, South Wales casually placed upon a chair at the end of a long hallway, corridors do have a natural reverb, crockery duly mic-ed up and ‘played’ with drum sticks, its demise was somewhat inevitable…all makes for an effective refrain. Out on a limb on its first outing and still feels very much that way today but also adds a bit of fun to the often-deep evocative lyrics that litter E-S-M.
J’s gorgeous Waiting for the Flood opens side two, the slow building acoustic chords really benefit from a suspended note on the D chord here, taking it away from an otherwise predictable but equally pleasing chord sequence, David is very good at throwing curve balls like this. But its perhaps Ash’s remarkable saxophone sequence that really steals the show here.
Rainbird, a similarly exquisite David J composition (the subject matter is his cohort Mr. Ash) is actually far more complex than its first outing suggested. The beautiful tumbling, cascading piano littered throughout alongside Ash’s sporadic spoken word backing really come to the fore here, surprisingly, a new highlight.
The trippy Telephone is Empty is best enjoyed horizontal and absorbed through a decent pair of cans, Ash’s infrequent saxophone injection successfully bringing the listener back to his senses before the trip begins once again. A beautiful, floaty aural experience. Not only is Telephone actually quite revelatory over its first offering, but the augmentation of the saxophone throughout much of this album was at times sadly hidden away under a swath of other instruments, revealing itself here to play a much more dominant role than was originally suggested.
What appears to be initially a simple strummed acoustic number, J’s Everybody Wants to go to Heaven proves, like many of these acoustic unmined gems on ESM, to be far from that. Ash once again offering a remarkable sax performance nestled within a subtle backbone of keys. adding layer after layer and texture after texture Everybody Wants to go to Heaven is a beautiful testament to the quality of song writing that adorns this record. The less is more approach of the title track for example says so much, the otherworldly embellishments following the declaring of “Earth” “Sun” and “Moon” at the songs repeated refrain are exemplary, “here comes another revelation” offers Ash on the set closer Youth – he’s certainly not wrong, this record is full of them.
A role reversal of sorts sees Ash applying fuzz bass to many of side one’s content on this the eponymous titled 4th, a million seller on release Love and Rockets spawned two singles firstly the U.S. billboard smash hit So Alive and its follow up with a monster hook No Big Deal but let’s take a listen to the opening number, the thunderous ****(Jungle Law). A loud raucous romp chronicling the ongoing saga of band versus hack. Guitar is this time handled by J with layers of deep bottom end (Ash) augmented by Haskins crashing drums. ****(Jungle Law) is one hell of an opening statement, setting the scene for side one (for the most part at least). No Big deal is a fuzz bass lead pile driving rocker augmented with a simplistic lyric that once the dust has settled gives way to an experimental trip through a series of moody compartments (The Purest Blue), built up largely with saxophone a splintered and disjointed sparse vocal that somehow sets a scene of sorts before unleashing the big guns. Motorcycle ripping though the serene wilderness created by The Purest Blue with the finesse of a Sherman tank. An array of bass guitars, more bass guitars and a fuzz thrown in together with Haskins tribal backbeat, Motorcycle is an onslaught on the ears. A subtle subliminal nod to an unspoken disgraced glam rocker can be heard early on…once reaching its crescendo Motorcycle suddenly drops to make way for its birth twin; I Feel Speed. A number that was once regarded as the yang to Motorcycle’s Yin but within this new rebirth I Feel Speed can at times offer up a similar arsenal to its predecessor.
Bound for Hell opens side two, another rolling rocker continuing in much the same vein as side one, J’s blues infused harmonica (yes, it’s back!) battling amongst Haskins repetitive pounding drums that very cleverly slowly build from nothing to something within the songs opening sixty seconds. This is a really nice touch.
Built around album producer John Fryer’s string synth The Teardrop Collector proves once again, like many of the songs within this overhaul that it’s not just a simple laid-back number with a mellow vocal from Ash but a multi layered, complex slab of dreamy pop. Haskins leads and ends.
In one of those rare moments for a band that everything just works and is wrapped up almost as soon as pen hits paper So Alive was one of those moments. Initially a chugging guitar rocker in its embryonic stage steered in an altogether different direction by John Fryer. Embraced by MTV and with a hypnotic Lou Reed-esque Walk on the Wild Side female backing vocal (also at the suggestion of Fryer) So Alive gave Love and Rockets mainstream success, success that had eluded them for many years taking them out of the clubs and into the stadiums with the blink of an eye. The keys of the intro and Haskins’ subtle percussion are integral to this number, both inconsequential on its first outing, further testament to McGee’s skill. Breaking with tradition by adding a string section (violin, viola and cello) to Rock and Roll Babylon gives this eulogy to the early heroes of Rock’n’roll a lift without doubt, citing Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles (the Jack as in “Jack and Jerry Lee” within the lyric is a reference to Hit the Road Jack, an early ‘60’s hit for both Lewis and Charles), Lennon and Barrett (referenced here as Johnny Moondog and Lady Diamond respectively) along the way. This one feels somewhat out on a limb in much the same way that Lazy did on ESM but for all the right reasons, like the aforementioned placing actually works very well, serving to bring the more mellower side of the record to a conclusion with the gentle strumming of Ash’s No Words No More. J once again engaging his harmonica alongside Haskins’ vibraphone which adds a warm relaxed tone to the song. A myriad of sound and styles adorn this set, very much a mixed bag, this is the beauty of Love and Rockets of course never resting long enough to be pigeonholed into a specific genre, shapeshifting to suit themselves rather than the expectations or demands of their audience and non-more so than the sprawling Hot Trip to Heaven.
Out of print for some twenty five years, a very short one off vinyl run during its initial outing makes this one a very welcome addition to the box set. Appearing here in revamped artwork and consolidating the original four sides onto three to make room for three bonus cuts, two of which are previously unreleased. The epic Body and Soul begins this trip, taking its inspiration and anchor point from the burgeoning U.K. acid house scene in the early 1990’s of which the band had fully immersed themselves. Built around a hypnotic keyboard/synth riff Body and Soul kicks in proper about seven minutes later, driven throughout by Haskins’ programmed loops, David J provides the lead vocal and “Spin the Wheel” mantra with Ash and J harmonising on the songs title. Clocking in at just over fourteen minutes, this is a monster, J’s bass is locked in a deep repetitive groove whilst Ash’s guitar working in unison chugs a colossal riff. Despite a claim at the time that there’s very little guitars on Hot Trip, this simply isn’t true, Ugly for example boasts an equally powerful riff with guest vocalist Natacha Atlas (Transglobal Underground) spinning her trademark wailing around Ash’s lead vocal and guitar loops. Over seven minutes in length Ugly continues in very much the same vein as Body and Soul paving the way for Atlas to create further her twisted Eastern phrasing and a slight shift in mood for the brilliant Trip and Glide, Another Haskins led number reveals hidden beneath a plethora of guitars is a practically concealed backing vocal and a subtle little spinning keyboard motif and its these little textures that really make the difference here. The stunning This Heaven (the sole single from Hot Trip) is an epic slab of hypnotic electronica, during the fractured vocal David J proclaims, “get lost in it” and that is exactly what happens, an aural experience like no other on this record. A series of simplistic piano notes six minutes in kick starts a second trip through This Heaven, reigniting one’s aural senses in the unlikely event that your attention had drifted somewhat during the first five minutes or so.
Bongos are the unlikely programmed percussion that leads the mesmerizing No Worries, a track that arrived almost fully formed (sans J’s slinky bass lines and Ash’s lyric) including a microscopic, subliminal sampling of the female backing from So Alive all courtesy of Kevin Haskins.
Photo by Vincent McDonald/American Recordings
What is more than apparent on revisiting this record though is that there is no weak spot, each and every track, as lengthy as they are, are incredibly powerful statements, the blazing title track for example with its shared vocal duties (Ash and J) and a Panzer division of guitars is a dish to be served red hot. Crawling from the wreckage of Hot Trip to Heaven, a reprieve of sorts, is a two-minute morose instrumental; Eclipse evoking thoughts of travelling out of control through some barren desolate lunar landscape.
Beggars’ choice of Abbey Road for this set of vinyl remasters really is one to be applauded, they have never disappointed during previous commissions and have not disappointed on this one either, remastered nice and loud and this is particularly beneficial on this set of songs on Hot Trip to Heaven. Original LP closer Set Me Free is of particular note here, boasting a low spoken word vocal from David J that finds itself coming up for air, previously lost, hidden amongst Ash’s repeat of the title. Much like Bauhaus before them and contrary to popular belief, Love and Rockets never over recorded, at least not up to this point in their career. Of the bonus cuts Firewater is an early lengthy stab at what would eventually become This Heaven, barely recognisable save for an odd sample here and there, finished but ultimately discarded, it somehow seems very much at home here. Up next is a previously unreleased ‘Experience’ remix of This Heaven (this, the ‘Flying vocal’ mix is one of four commissioned at the time but never found a rightful home-until now), following a similar path to its official counterpart. With no break in the track flow, Experience segues via Firewater without a breath and its all the better for it.
It’s often said that the best music videos are the ones that were never made, the images conjured up by the instrumentals here are incredibly evocative, the final track; Coyote suggests a lone canine wandering amongst a decaying, deserted and derelict dead metropolis, Hunger City perhaps, he wanders off thin, tired into the hot midday heat out of sight…
The coup de grace of this set though is undoubtedly the arrival of Sweet F.A. on vinyl for the very first time. During its conception this was a troublesome record and heralded the coda for the Beggars years. Slipped out almost unnoticed in 1996 now finally after years in the wasteland is it finally getting the recognition it so justly deserves. Rolling out pleasantly enough on the dreamy stringed title track, in today’s nothing’s shocking society even the use of the F word in such a serene number fails to shock. Very much an English expression, Sweet Fuck All, nothing, but like much of our slang and idioms it has shifted in both meaning and expression over the years. Sweet F.A. / Sweet Fanny Adams, its original manifestation originating in late Victorian times following the murder of a small eight year old child…Fanny Adams.
Assembled from a series of sporadic recording sessions; tracks added, dropped, added again, fully realised high quality recordings replaced with arguably stronger material but then Love and Rockets have never followed the conventional rules. Sure, they played the game alright, providing it was on their terms and Sweet F.A. is a testament to their bloody mindedness. The flow of the record doesn’t follow any of the usual cliché’s either but in spite of everything this is the ultimate parting shot.
Adorned with a series of killer riffs (Use Me, Judgement Day – both late comers) David J’s personal account of the fickleness of the music industry (Shelf Life), “How many A&R men does it take to change a light bulb?” he enquires, doomed relationships (Sweet Lover Hangover), as Ash proclaims “just waiting for the jerk to phone, see you waiting by the telephone” we’ve all been there of course. The multitracked vocal on many the tracks are vital, as are the guest musicians along for the ride adding their respective talents, take Bruce Kaphan for instance adding an incredible pedal steel guitar to Shelf Life, Carrie Bradley adding backing vocals to Pearl and violin to Sad and Beautiful
World, (this instrument in particular is brought to the fore here once again by Sean McGee), Cynthia Merrill’s astonishing cello on Natacha (another huge benefit of this remaster) or Steve Carter’s delicious Fender Rhodes on Fever, Swans composer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Wallfisch providing piano on the two aforementioned latecomers. Clean is very much the slow burner here, quite possibly the dark horse of this set. While Spiked is a very disjointed and incredibly meticulous track as its lyric suggests its very much “Psyched up for a riot”, another highlight of this record that has embraced a new life on vinyl.
Careful handling of the original master onto three sides, (no compression loss here folks!) sees a full side of extra previously unreleased period material for side four. These numbers perfectly compliment the original arrangement of Sweet F.A. The astounding My Dark Twin an Ash/J twinned vocal number and Ash’s Butterfly are particular highlights of side four.
Sweet F.A. is a very well-produced record one part Love and Rockets and one part John Fryer (This Mortal Coil, The Hope Blister) and here’s a thought…if an album was ever made for vinyl…this is it.
SEVENTH DREAM OF TEENAGE HEAVEN
The Dog-End of a Day Gone By/Saudade
Kundalini Express/Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot man)/An American Dream
Rain Bird/Everybody Wants to go to Heaven/Earth-Sun-Moon/Youth
LOVE AND ROCKETS
****(Jungle Law)/Motorcycle/Rock and Roll Babylon
HOT TRIP TO HEAVEN
This Heaven/Be the Revolution/No Worries/Coyote SWEET F.A.
Sweet Lover Hangover/Clean/Spiked/My Dark Twin
© Andrew J Brooksbank November 2022