Review Summary: I ain't talking about heaven and hell..’80-’85 Part VI
Started by several personages of 80’s avant-funk vanguards The Pop Group and The Slits, and a young then-unknown Swedish transplant named Neneh Cherry, Rip Rig + Panic burst forth onto Bristol’s underground scene in 1980, a being hewn from little else except arrant ruination and an unflinching desire to subvert model and execution. God
, their debut, would become an archetypal record of unhinged experimentation. Full of odd patterns and unequaled style, it aligned itself perfectly with the rapidly escalating free-from movement that was brewing in the deep, cobwebbed corners of Western metropolitan undergrounds.
The Pop Group had always been an act keen to explore and slice up the sociopolitical facets of life. That, coupled with God
's four-act, verbose track-list created an early impression of an album that had its feet firmly planted in a pointed concept. But whatever conceptual aspirations lie behind God
, they are all but snuffed out by the record’s schizoid constitution. This was a running push-and-pull moment with no-wave and similarly abstracted music forms that came to germinate in the early 80’s - theory and message taking a backseat to aesthetic form. It’s music that drifts in a state of chronic mayhem, its wrecked presentation a dazzling end in itself.
Mark Springer’s masterly exercises in cockeyed piano is the ace up God
’s sleeve. He gives “Knee Deep in Shit” such an askew swing, that amped by the clattering percussion and Gareth Sager’s gruff-throated rants, the song exists in a condensed space of utter breakdown. He lays down the bedrock of God
, as virtuosic as he is radically-inclined. Sager is the principal architect of Rip Rig + Panic for all intents and purposes, but his role as leader is as fluid as any other angle of the album, and God
is a result of fusion, a collective of young visionaries coalescing in their want of something entirely not of the mainstream.
Neneh Cherry’s marque of roughhewn soul, soon to become a permanent fixture in both Bristol’s and New York’s avant-garde scenes, gets its proper debut here. She had played around with Ari Up in a few previous acts, like the speedy punk of The Cherries and the dub convulsions of New Age Steppers. But the three songs she fronts here were the first show of her radiant capacities. Full-bodied and much less ragged vocally than Segar and Up, she confidently stirs opener “Constant Drudgery is Harmful to SOUL, SPIRIT & HEALTH” in its punch-drunk swagger, lending a compact foundation to a song that otherwise seems intent on cracking itself at the seams. Her haunted shrieks trade places with funky half-spoken crooning on “Need (De-School You),” and on the jazzy corrosion of “Eskimo Women,” she shows what Billie Holiday would have sounded like put through a meat-mincer.
For all that swirling chaos, God
feels exactly as it should – a product of immaculate choreography, improvisation that still tips its hat to a meticulously planned whole. Nothing here feels slapdash or sloppy in the prosaic sense. Ari Up’s pitched vocals are barely distinguishable through the rave piano variations that thrust “Change Your Life” forward, but burst forth on the dense disco of “Shadows There Because of the Sun.” All experimentation and aversion to conventional song structures gets dialed back for the gorgeously unsettled instrumental “The Blue Blue Third,” the band letting Springer create a moment of ordinary beauty. All of it feels as premeditated as any other quotidian album would. It’s disorder and anarchy, sure, but one that contains enough self-awareness to betray what it truly is – an ideological stance, an up-turning of the nose at the commonplace drudgery that had swept over the artistic niche and its corporative creeds, a call to crash out of the haven of boredom and into a whole new brand of creativity. And for the briefest instant, it looked like it was going to work.