Whenever I’ve given interviews myself, and I’ve been asked about the music, I’ve always extolled the merits of the dark indie music scene in London. In the very vanguard of that sound, pioneers in reintroducing smart, sexy, deadly music to goth in the UK, is Cold in Berlin.
Cold in Berlin make hypnotic, dark and spiky music with mesmerizing and terrifying vocals that had me hooked from the start. Ten years ago today their debut album hit and this tireless band have been creating, performing and releasing ever since…
There’s no denying Andrew Eldritch is a consummate showman, but to schedule his latest album to release on Friday 13th? The man who scorns the dreaded ‘goth’ tag, picking such a shock-horror date. I can’t credit it, and instead trust sources who say Floodland – the second studio album from The Sisters of Mercy – was released on 16th November, 1987.
That the compulsive-controller lead singer would act on such minor details should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the making of First and Last and Always, the debut album that had literally laid Eldritch low in his efforts to make it ‘just so’.
Going into Floodland, he has all that and more – he’d vanquished the traitorous Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams, denying them The Sisters of Mercy’s name for their own efforts, with the tactical release of the ‘Gift’ EP (Gift in German, of which Eldritch is a first-class speaker, means poison).
In their place, he’d recruited the beautiful and bad-ass bassist Patricia Morrison, formerly of the Gun Club and Fur Bible, to join him and the ever-loyal Doktor Avalanche – but her contribution is disputed and uncertain, even by the inscrutable standards of The Sisters of Mercy. Session guitarists take the place of potentially rebellious bandmates, no tours are scheduled to trouble the performance-averse singer, and legendary producer Jim Steinman is on hand to help produce This Corrosion – the eleven-minute anthem extravaganza of a lead single, that storms the charts like no Sisters single had before. With the Meatloaf producer in his corner, Eldritch can bully the WEA label for money, whilst Floodland is issued on the Merciful Release label directly under his control.
From his continental fortress of Hamburg, von Eldritch is in an unassailable position of power, and Floodland shows this confidence and security throughout. Regardless of chart performances or fan accolades, this album contains the best-known Sisters tracks bar none. Tracks like Lucretia, My Reflection are signal examples of The Sisters of Mercy, continuing to dominate goth club dancefloors thirty years on as well as being a staple part of the band’s encore set when they (infrequently) tour.
For me, I was hooked in by that track when I first started going to clubs – a hypnotic, arrogant blast of rock and roll sneer that propelled me to the dancefloor. When I got the album however, it was the quieter songs that put me fully under the spell of The Sisters of Mercy, all chilling synths and robotic drumming with Eldritch a murmur rather than a howl. There’s the post-cigarette, post-orgasm musing of Flood I and Flood II, intertwining water and death, Soviet-issue nuclear holocaust and ephemeral love picked up in Hamburg bars. Or the aching heartbreak lost in an icy blizzard (of fallout or drugs – take your pick) of Driven Like The Snow. Or the incomparable honesty of 1959 – literally, incomparable; I can think of no other song by Andrew Eldritch to compare to it.
It is Von at his apogee, and the master manipulator is in his element, dispensing punishing tirades and introspective homilies on heartbreak, artfully hidden behind his vague, many-headed hydra style lyrics.
Like one of his heroes, David Bowie, Eldritch the persona has changed as well. No longer the ‘doomy’ prophet of apocalypse, all scruffy-crow black and cowboy-hatted frontiersman of post-punk, no. Floodland-era Eldritch is the leatherclad rock’n’roll postapocalyptic Messiah, seizing control of a shattered society, assassinating rivals and telling you exactly how it’s going to be, from his lair within the nuked remains of the reptile house, London SW1A. Or the urbane imperial factotum, manipulating events in the British Territories with treaty in one hand and sword-cane in the other, an unimpeachable Foreign Office representative in cool safari white.
Whoever he is, whatever incarnation the Eldritch has assumed for this chapter of The Sisters of Mercy story, Floodland is his success story writ large. It isn’t the difficult and contested production of the debut album, nor is the uneven and anticlimatic ‘final’ release, Vision Thing. As discussed above, this album is a true conjunction of forces and circumstances that define Andrew Eldritch and therefore this band and this release.
“All the band’s a stage, and all the members merely players,” to paraphrase the Bard. “They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Spiggy Taylor here plays the part of Andrew von Eldritch to its peak, ensuring Floodland a legacy as the finest album every crafted by The Sisters of Mercy.
It’s hosted by the kind people at Star & Shadow Cinema, a DIY community collective project in the bijou enclave of Heaton, Newcastle. Every second Wednesday at 8PM GMT we transmit the show online – it was pre-recorded until our latest episode when we finally risked it all and went out live to our listeners. Each show is then recorded and available to listen again so it also sidles into the ‘podcast’ category if you like.
As well as going live, we have another first when we return on Wednesday 18th November. Dr Nally sat down for a (Zoom) chat with the exceptionally multi-talented Rosie Garland – author, performer, compere, the very first writer in residence of the gothic splendour that is the John Rylands Library, and of course singer with famed post-punk band The March Violets, amongst her very many skills.
She and Dr Nally talked about her first poetry anthology, What Girls Do In The Dark which the publishers describe as “rooted in the realm of gothic imagination, mythology and the uncanny. It contains magnitudes and magic, feminist fables starstruck with science and astronomy.” You’ll have to tune in on the 18th for the next episode of Black Cat Radio to hear what they discussed though!
There was also an online launch of the book featuring not only Rosie’s presence but additional guest writers Ian Humphreys and Tania Hershman – all from 7:30PM GMT on Thursday 12th November. You can watch it on YouTube here!
We intend for this to be a regular feature on Black Cat Radio, interviews and conversations with creators from across the alternative arena as part of our programming. In the meantime you can also be in touch with your requests, shout-outs, and even breaking new music as I try to catch up with the tidal wave of submissions from energetic new artists that always floods my inbox.
Ensure you’re listening every second Wednesday, on the Star and Shadow website, and join us in the chatroom to let us know just where on the gothosphere you’re tuning in from!
The thirtieth anniversary of the third and final album from The Sisters of Mercy passed quietly on the 22nd October. Sadly it’s the latest in a long line of dismissals for the outsider album that simply can’t compete with the icy arrogance of Floodland or the legendary goth-rock pioneer that was First and Last and Always.
Approaching Vision Thing can be a challenge – do we take it as read that it was Andrew Eldritch’s ongoing parody of rock’n’roll, now embracing the gung-ho faux metal style of the late Eighties? Early guitarist Ben Gunn scorned the Paramount Leader’s attitude of “taking the piss” and departed in 1983, so was he onto something?
Is Vision Thing a subtle and wry jab in the kidneys to the American Dream of George H.W. Bush’s neocon United States? Or is it a cynical move to appeal to the burgeoning American market from a jaded mastermind exercising complete creative control?
Difficult to say, and your mileage may vary. A key characteristic of The Sisters of Mercy is the total inscrutability of their motives and meanings, and indeed considering them as a plural at all would be a misdirection – since its formation the band has been merely a vehicle for the vision of Andrew von Eldritch. His caustic and combative attitude to the music press, his rarefied commentary hidden behind his lyrics, all combine to cloak the goals and game plan of the band entirely.
So we must consider this album as it is presented to us, an eight-track rock and roll rollercoaster that discards much of the brooding and bombast of its predecessors. As per usual, Eldritch has assembled a new lineup of ‘hired guns’ for recording, with iconic bassist Patricia Morrison discharged from duties under a cloud of undisclosed hostility that remains unexplored to date. Later interviews with newcomer guitarist Andreas Bruhn and black sheep bassist Tony James very much imply a scenario of soldiers following orders from Field-Marshal Spiggy, echoing the obsessive controlling nature that produced First and Last and Always.
So these songs must have sprung fully-formed from the brow of Eldritch, and there are some undisputed gems amongst them. The album starts with an absolute crash of energy, the title track a snarled anthem of hate for American neoimperialism as the Soviet Union begins to crumble. Vision Thing the song has remained a bastion of encores at Sisters gigs for years, decades since it first came out and is a standout example of Von’s ability to write a rock’n’roll song as good as the favourite funereal dirges of earlier releases.
Then, a contrast that sincerely lends weight to the argument that Eldritch has composed a truly supercillous album – the raw foreboding of Ribbons, one of the finest songs on the album if not in the entire Sisters arsenal. A hybrid of Vision Thing’s shrieking guitar riff style and that trademark Sisters sound of black-as-night, slow paced sex-and-death brooding, Ribbons for me is the perfect marrying of the new and the old. A perfect gateway into this unusual album that splits its style like it splits its audience.
As a whole, listening to Vision Thing is very much listening to a songwriter who seems consumed with bitterness, regret, and loss. There’s the freewheeling irresponsibility of Detonation Boulevard, embracing your flight reflex and disregarding the consequences. There’s the wounded heart of Something Fast and When You Don’t See Me, a spurned lover estranged from human interaction and wandering through grief. With Doctor Jeep, Von and the band return to their scathing attacks on contemporary Western politics at a frenetic pace with an MTV-friendly video that is either a shameless cash-in or another knowing wink from the cynical Wizard behind the curtain of mockery. Or both!
Vision Thing begins to wrap up with the overblown More, another production from Jim Steinman (the maestro behind This Corrosion from the last album), a driving soft-metal track of urgent need and hunger with shadowy implications of prostitution – and dig into the band’s history to see how Eldritch likes to play with such imagery. On the surface though, it’s a by-the-numbers rock anthem that deservedly took the spot for lead single. The final track for the album is the mournful I Was Wrong, an excrutiating self-flagellation that is entirely out of sorts for such a private and evasive songwriter. It actually feels slightly embarassing to hear, like pages from a secret diary suddenly laid bare…
In a bar that’s always closing In a world where people shout I don’t wanna talk this over I don’t wanna talk it out I was quite impressed until I hit the floor Isn’t that what friends are for? Pain looks great on other men That’s what they’re for
I absolutely adore it, for what it’s worth.
And so we conclude Vision Thing, very much a contradiction in terms as an album. Half soft-metal anthems, half soulful anti-lovesongs. Biting political commentary one moment, lashings of self-recrimination the next. Eldritch keeping the world under a scathing microscope, then drawing it close for heartfelt confessions. A calculated move on the US music market, or a duplicitious attempt to lure MTV in and then destroy them?
The final studio album from the arch-controller of gothic rock, Vision Thing continues to divide fans, but in comparison always lags behind its definitive older siblings in the discography on fan polls. A mystery, a curiosity, a strange jumble of classic Sisters anthems and understated, half-remembered personal yearnings that never quite break the surface.Tracks like Alice, Marian or This Corrosion are more ‘definitive’ songs by The Sisters of Mercy but the last time I saw the band play, the entirety of Vision Thing was performed to an appreciative audience. No other album earns this honour.
As their final release (compilation albums and remixes notwithstanding) should this be their legacy? We recall that Von promised another album should Donald Trump take the US Presidency back in 2016, and it would have seemed so appropriate to unleash Vision Thing II on the new American ‘circus’. Instead, The Sisters of Mercy went even further underground, and leaving us even more bereft of hope for a new album. So it seems the band’s story ends with this unusual and divisive album, now three decades old. A suitable ending for an unscrutable outfit.
As the live music sector struggles with an ongoing lockdown and insufficient government support, I’ve turned a weary eye towards the UK’s music festivals which are both a social and sonic lifeline for the scene. Will there be any band-led social gatherings this side of 2021? The reality seems unlikely…