Review Summary: Stay bruised..'80-'85 Part VII
In 1980, when post-punk godfathers Swell Maps fell apart, Nikki Sudden found himself at a crossroads of sorts. Having helped edge in a new sub-genre into the indie fold, he was left without a band to reap its looming benefits. The time was right for him to gather another crew of manicured pessimists and continue what he’d unwittingly help start. So like any strung-out contrarian born to become a lifelong also-ran would, what Sudden decided to do was recruit fellow post-punker Dave Kusworth of Birmingham legends Subterranean Hawks, and record a double album of despairing country. The result, Robespierre’s Velvet Basement
, is less a rare item nowadays than it is a completely random find, an ever-narrow crawlspace of hoarded music, that people usually stumble onto when they delve into the blinding oversupply of Nick Cave’s old tour-mates and writing partners.
is a heady alloy of jangle pop, psychedelic guitar schisms and old country. A distinct fetish for the romanticized grit of Americana, not unlike the one that Sudden’s future cohorts Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard were mining at the time, courses through the record, and though its Birmingham heart is a wholly intact presence, the amalgam of Robespierre
’s aesthetics all get sieved through that patented Southern Gothic gloom of an open road, sheer freedom that leads to no resolution, except the aloneness proper liberty usually yields.
That notion of finding beauty in desperation is especially evident on numbers where the band pull back on acoustic grass roots and crank up the electric fuzz. Dense, tarry guitar-work lend “Where the Rivers End” hopeless gravity, a seven-minute number that sounds like it’s hanging off a wire fence drunkenly for fear of crumpling for the night. Elsewhere, on “Pin Your Heart to Mine,” Sudden’s guitar takes on a Johnny Marr-esque radiant rattling, guttural harmonicas give “All The Dark Rags” a gauzy stardust feel; and the sing-along length of “Silken Sheets” turns the song so bright-eyed and lovelorn, it’s hard to imagine that all that innocence was penned by two pallid post-punkers with big hair, bigger black boots and perpetualy-hungover eyes.
At a track-list that’s 27 songs long, Robespierre
does at time stretch itself too thin, especially when taken in in one sitting. But for a double album of mid-tempo country from two of post-punk’s unfortunate lost causes, there isn’t one overtly weak song on the album. And what the duo lose in lack of modulation, they more than make up in the troves of mood they manage to coax out of such an acutely resolved genre.
accomplishes more than the bulk of its contemporaries did, is snaring that rare, myopic mid-ground that Americana resided in. It was always a field rife with artists attempting to tumble backwards into purity by partaking in vice. And Sudden’s lifestyle and modus were similarly oxymoronic – indulging in all of life’s old enhancers, tobacco, sugar, alcohol and a dash of scag on top, not to curtail reality so much, but perhaps to remain human a tad longer. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just another case of junkies conjuring beauty of thin air before falling to waste. Either way, it’s hard to gripe when you’ve got all this f#cking loveliness wriggling its way into your auditory cortex.