Review Summary: Nothing better to do than fool around..'80-'85 Part I
Doing their best to push back against the up-surging New Romantics and dream-poppers, the Blue Orchids grafted a grittier, more f*cked-off brand of melancholy into the 80’s underground than their fellow Mancunian outfits were offering.
Started by Martin Braham - the man perhaps most famous for being just about the only player to leave mercurial post-punkers The Fall on his own free will, as opposed to being trumped out by Mark E. Smith - the Orchids built angular rock stewed in caustic, occasionally kitschy keyboards and a sharp scrappy tongue. After several stints opening for Echo and the Bunnymen and gutter punk poet John Cooper Clarke, and a ringing endorsement from the venerable John Peel, the band slunk their way into the US scene, where they would tour for years as Nico’s backing band.
Taking doomy psychedelic cues from the Velvet Unerground, the Orchids rounded off that gloom with Buzzcocks and UK Subs-esque upbeat vitriol. What they produced was some of the first blueprints for what just a few years later would become indie rock. The jangle pitch of their guitars, coupled with a tight rhythm section and relentless keys that border on Manzarek treacle turn every tune here into a hermetic block, witty and primed and sound.
, a loose anthology, gathers together the band’s first EP’s and singles into one comely full-length. Given its disparate origins, it’s a small wonder how cohesively tight Money Mountain
is. Their next collection, The Sleeper
wouldn’t see the light of day until 2003, by which point Blue Orchids were mostly the fare of record junkies with an obscurist fetish, and old, balding fans who still remembered those Hacienda and the Cha-Cha shows.
Despite never striking a proper name for themselves, to those attuned to the underground sound of the early 80’s, Money Mountain
boasts some instantly recognizable classics – the nervy chug of “Work,” the swing-prone “The Flood” and the patiently unsettling “Sun Connection” all figured heavily on both pirate radio, and no doubt made countless appearances on the mix-tapes circulating among music club-rats at the time. But even discounting those cult staples, there isn’t really a weak song on Money Mountain
. Though the hefty use of keys dates this sound somewhat, it isn’t enough to obscure the keen songwriting pulsing underneath. What’s more boggling is how well this music has aged overall, or how with some modernized electronic touches, it would fit seamlessly as stronghold points on the next album of your favourite indie act kicking around today. Readymade single “Dumb Magician,” eerie psych instrumental “Tighten My Belt” and the gorgeously slack “A Year With No Head” all bring retroactive association elements to The Horrors, Badly Drawn Boy and every other indie darling XL Records was pushing out in the 2000’s.
Braham would make a brief return to The Fall around the Extricate
period, start up a small handful of short-lived bands, and would eventually manage to put out the rest of the Orchids’ material, re-mastered and made even sharper. The band’s catalog, small and scattered as it is, remains a singular presence in indie rock, sparing pleas of sleepy town working class yearnings in the Thatcher-ite age.