Saturday, November 24, 2012

A few words about "Anastasis", an album by Dead Can Dance

The year was 1990. We were renting a small terrace house in Liverpool Street, North Fitzroy. It was the year we got married, and the start of our life together. The house was positioned so as to receive the least amount of sunlight possible. It was a very cold house. And damp. Mould cruelly took from me one much-loved pair of op-shop stovepipe trousers and a pair of black pointy shoes.

The house had a dishwasher. Neither of us had ever lived in a house with a dishwasher. We figured that in the absence of dishwasher powder we should be able to squirt a quantity of dishwashing liquid into the space provided, with the same result. We figured wrong.

We also shared the house with mice. One night Adrienne was talking on the phone with someone when a mouse scurried up the cord that connected the handpiece to the telephone. Mice also ate one layer of our wedding cake. (Ants ate the other layer. I think it should be safe to say now, 22 years later, that neither of these things proved to be bad omens.)

My musical tastes also changed over the course of 1990, as we unconsciously sought out some common ground. It seemed time for me to say goodbye, at least for a while and/or outside of headphone listening, to Swans, Einsturzende Neubauten, Big Black, John Zorn, Husker Du, and the like. Tom Waits seemed like fair game. (Although to this day I have never been entirely sure.) And we both liked Elvis Costello, The Blackeyed Susans, My Friend The Chocolate Cake, and (of course) the many moods of Dave Graney. (I don't think we had yet discovered the love that dared not speak its name -- lounge music.)

But one record that particularly mesmerised both of us that year was "Aion", by Dead Can Dance. It was the first Dead Can Dance album I bought; I had not previously had anything more than a passing awareness of them in their earlier, classic Goth incarnation. I don't even know what lured me into buying it. But it immediately stuck. It seemed to strike both of us as coming from somewhere we could both appreciate (if not recognise), a place that was both mysterious and striking. We listened to it a lot in that house, and have continued to bring it out from time to time ever since. (I also distinctly remember sitting on the floor in the living room one Sunday afternoon listening to an interview with Lisa Gerrard on Triple R or 3PBS that conveyed the distinct impression that she is not like other people (viz., as mad as a hatter). Which, I suppose, just confirms that linearity and/or rationality of thought is not a prerequisite for artistic creation.)

They released a couple more albums after "Aion", in which they chased their particular, and elusive, muse in different but still rewarding directions, and we stayed along for the ride. Then they went quiet. Lisa Gerrard did some solo work, collaborations and film soundtracks (quite a lot, actually). Brendan Perry retired to Ireland and was a less visible presence. We didn't feel the urge to pursue what either of them was doing individually. The Dead Can Dance albums we knew and loved were enough to tide us over.

All of which is to say: my sense of amazement at the existence of a new Dead Can Dance album, in 2012, might well amount to nothing more than misty-eyed nostalgia. But it also might be down to its being a record of the highest quality, landing unexpectedly, like a dream, in the middle of an era when the prevailing aesthetic, at least outside of the purely electronic/fetishistic realm, seems to be one of slap it down and push it out. Whatever emotional and intellectual plane they are operating on, it results in music that sounds like nobody else. It also allows them frequently to get away with things nobody else could get away with.

Cases in point:

1.  Brendan Perry's lyrics on "Children Of The Sun", which, if anybody else was singing them, would come across as the most embarrassing hippie nonsense, but the gravity with which he sings them, and the sheer exhilaration of the musical accompaniment, render nugatory any question of how much he means it and how much is slyly winking self-mockery. His voice, an authoritative blend of Jim Morrison, Scott Walker, Mark Snarski and Frank Sinatra, commands an authority that cuts any such questions short.

2.  "Amnesia" slides uncomfortably easily into "The Eternal", by Joy Division, a pre-Goth talisman for those of their/our generation but also a song, and a band, that remain largely untouchable and from whose narrow orbit you would have assumed Dead Can Dance had drifted away many years ago. And yet somehow, again, their unblinking sense of purpose means that any doubts are left at the starting gate.

Look, I can't really say much that would convince you of the worth of this album if you were disposed the other way. As a possible (or even likely) album of the year, it is, as I have attempted to convey, a very personal choice, and I would be the first to admit that with Dead Can Dance you either get it or you don't. But if that die has not already been cast for you, can I at least suggest that you give it a try? (And if you do, please, to do it justice, listen on CD through good quality speakers or headphones. It's what they would want you to do.)

(And to FACT Magazine, who included it in their list of 50 worst album covers of the year, I say: phooey.)