25 May 2010

Army Of Lovers

Army Of Lovers - A Brief History

Bursting onto the music scene in 1987, Swedish band Army Of Lovers are a force to be reckoned with. The portrayed image of trivial self-obsession belies a series of album releases featuring songs covering a remarkably diverse selection of subjects and styles. Nestled amongst perfect nuggets of disco-pop lie highly polished dance tracks, screaming synthetic masterpieces and sensual, rhythmic grooves. How many other albums boast a song about Marie Curie's discovery of Radium and a vicious ballad about the death of Saint Sebastien, never mind an album where such historic epics take pride of place next to a 2-minute song about Michaela's poodles (and her belief that she should pray to God so that God will believe in her), and the five-minute voodoo extravaganza that is Walking With A Zombie?

Famed for their outrageous image, camp beyond words, even going so far as to employ their own fashion designer Camilla Thulin, the Army were unafraid to employ excessive make-up, inappropriate use of corsets,phallic objects, tons of gold paint and vast quantities of glitter. Everything was fake - even the live shows employed hair-brushes, toy microphones, plastic violins - anything the band could think of to make sure that everyone - absolutely everyone - knew that they were miming. In fact, Army Of Lovers positively adored controversy, such as the storm stirred up by their 1993 single Israelism, actually a pro-Jewish anthem, but banned in Israel for scenes involving a Madonna-like bra which squirted milk and a general feeling of utter confusion over the point of the video, apart from fun, fun and more fun, apparently at the expense of Judaism. It's all fun, however pithy that might sound. How else do you explain the Army's sudden retreat to a monastery for the song Judgment Day, where a suitably repentant Alexander gives birth to Åke, the Army Of Lovers dog? What other reason can there be for Jean-Pierre's leather nappy in the video for Crucified, other than this bizarre sense of controversial fun? Certainly, the Army killed off an entire dance-floor of party guests in their La Plage De Saint Tropez video, long before Sophie Ellis Bextor got her hands on a packet of matches and got it into her head she might want to burn the goddamned house right down. For more information, get hold of a copy of Videovaganza, The Army's collection of rather twisted music videos. It eventually appeared on DVD as part of the Grand Docu-Soap greatest hits album.

The actual Army line-up underwent a complex series of changes in the years following the release of the first album; originally a three-part outfit consisting of La Camilla, Jean-Pierre Barda and Alexander Bard, in its time the Army has swapped a couple of members around (exchanging La Camilla for Michaela Dornonville De La Cour), expanded into a platoon of four with the addition of Dominika Peczynski and then swapped the other two back again for the 1995 release of what was announced as its final album, Les Greatest Hits. Throughout their time Anders Wollbeck worked closely with Bard, writing and producing much of the material as part of the Army Of Lovers team.

Yet despite its 'definite' breakup it would seem that the Army lives on! Two years on from the offical breakup came the release of Master Series in 1997, also compilation album, the Army having entered that phase of their career which seems to consist of an ever-increasing number of compilation albums.

And so we arrive at 2001 - rumours abounded in 2000 about remix albums, more greatest hits releases, that kind of thing. But no-one really believed it - the whole thing seemed too good to be true... maybeStockholm Records' usual method of releasing things ("It'll be May... no - June... no - next year. Maybe.") would get in the way. But then Le Grand Docu-Soap appeared, albeit with the usual variable release date, and the song Let The Sunshine In (a reworked cover of the song 'Let The Sunshine In/ The Flesh Failures' from the musical Hair) was released on the 12th of March, almost one month after its illegal debut onNapster from the 13th of February. Hands Up, another cover, was also released, though rumours of a further release of Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes turned out to be incorrect. Maybe there weren't limited edition gold panties to go with this album, but there were posters of the album cover with the gang dressed up in their usual style, Alexander even going so far as to clutch a penis in a jar whilst enduring a particularly false beard, La Camilla standing disturbingly close to a large wooden cross, Dominika looking as top-heavy as ever and Jean-Pierre draped in so many beads and sequins it's a wonder the man could stand up. They were back, if only for a moment!

The main creative force behind the band is, undeniably, Alexander Bard, something of a personality in Sweden if only because of his unremitting arrogance, be it real or all part of the fun. It is ironic that utter doom and gloom forms the main impetus for Bard's first song, Life In A Goldfish Bowl, released under the band-name Baard. The track is pure minimal synthpop, almost remeniscent of Kraftwerk's Metropolis. The b-side to the track, which has recently been re-released on vinyl by Genetic Records, is of a similar ilk: A Saviour For The Nations deals with the death of a great leader, and the ability of a country to cope with such events.

Baard was not, it must be said, tremendously successful, although one must surely count as some measure of success the re-release of a song over ten years later by a different record company. At the time, however, Alexander had to move on, and this is where the irony comes in. Barbie was a musical drag queen with more than a little attitude. Squeaky, mischievous and certainly an acquired taste, Barbie's hit song Prostitution Twist is cheesy, synth-driven pop, and could not be more distant from the gloomy techno-misery of Baard. It makes no excuses - the whole point of the song is to teach you how to get your high heels on and learn how to make love, underneath the streetlights in the middle of the night.

Following the demise of Army Of Lovers, or at least their descent into cover-songs and re-released greatest hits albums, Bard, retaining Anders Wollbeck's co-writing skills, teamed up with Mattias Lindblom andMarina Schiptjenko to form the more serious band Vacuum, as well as working on various media guru sidelines and popping up as a businessman extra on Caroline Af Ugglas' video for Egoistic. Two albums of songs covering subjects as diverse as particle physics, distant galaxies, India's nuclear weapons programme and Zoroastrianism were released - The Plutonium Cathedral and Seance At The Chaebol. Vacuum continued to release songs for a while, though Bard left following those first two albums to write for and manage the more Army Of Lovers-esque band Alcazar. Eventually, Alexander's involvement with Alcazar ceased, and the band Bodies Without Organs, later known as BWO gave way to a new project for 2010, Gravitonas. There will, undoubtedly, be more from Bard, but whether there'll ever be any more Army Of Lovers, remains in the lap of the Gods of Earth and Heaven...

Army Of Lovers: A Brief Album Discography

Army Of Lovers released and re-released several albums as European editions, US editions, UK editions and just-plain-odd editions. Some of them had extra tracks, some had tracks missing, some had a completely different set of tracks entirely. The following is a general list of these releases with the more peculiar versions, like the Argentinian version of Disco Extravaganza (complete with Quiereme Como A Un Revolver Cargado), omitted for clarity.

Disco Extravaganza (1990) Album
1:10 Birds Of Prey
4:20 Ride The Bullet
4:09 Supernatural
3:33 Viva La Vogue
4:24 Shoot That Laserbeam (Re-Recorded Version)
4:57 Love Me Like A Loaded Gun (The 1990 Remix)
3:23 Baby's Got A Neutron Bomb (The 1990 Remix)
4:02 Love Revolution
4:32 Scorpio Rising
4:23 Mondo Trasho
3:59 Dog
3:27 My Army Of Lovers
3:47 Hey Mr DJ
4:12 I Am The Amazon (The 1990 Remix)
3:51 Planet Coma 3AM

Massive Luxury Overdose (1991) Album]
3:44 We Stand United
3:32 Crucified
3:08 Candyman Messiah
3:39 Obsession
4:01 I Cross The Rubicon
3:54 Supernatural (The 1991 Remix)
3:42 Ride The Bullet (The 1991 Remix)
4:26 Say Goodbye To Babylon
3:39 Flying High
4:09 Walking With A Zombie
3:27 My Army Of Lovers

Massive Luxury Overdose (1992) Album
3:54 Dynasty Of Planet Chromada
3:32 Crucified
3:08 Candyman Messiah (Radio Edit; unlabelled)
3:39 Obsession
3:44 We Stand United
4:26 Say Goodbye To Babylon
3:26 The Particle Song
3:18 Someone Somewhere
4:01 I Cross The Rubicon
3:39 Flying High
4:09 Walking With A Zombie
3:58 Judgment Day

The Gods Of Earth And Heaven (1993) Album (16 tracks)
0:41 Chihuahuas On Parade
3:41 We Are The Universe
3:32 La Plage De Saint Tropez
3:54 I Am
0:44 Le Portrait De Jean-Pierre
3:20 Israelism
3:32 The Grand Fatigue
4:04 Carry My Urn To Ukraine
3:33 Sebastien
0:45 La Storia Di O
3:16 Blood In The Chapel
3:48 The Ballad Of Marie Curie
4:10 Heterosexuality
3:02 Sons Of Lucy
0:35 Also Sprach Alexander
3:45 The Day The Gods Help Us All

Glory Glamour And Gold (1994) Album (13 tracks)
5:31 Hurrah Hurrah Apocalypse
3:45 Sexual Revolution
3:59 Stand Up For Myself
3:14 Lit De Parade (Video Edit)
4:02 Life Is Fantastic
3:10 Mr Battyman
3:31 C'est Démon
3:39 Shine Like A Star
6:10 You've Come A Long Way Baby
3:25 Ballrooms Of Versailles
4:18 Dub Evolution
4:02 Like A Virgin Sacrified
3:27 Lit De Parade (Radio Edit)

Les Greatest Hits (1995) Album (18 tracks)
3:54 Give My Life
3:30 Venus And Mars
3:29 My Army Of Lovers
3:28 Ride The Bullet (The 1991 Remix; unlabelled)
3:57 Supernatural (The 1991 Remix; unlabelled)
3:33 Crucified
3:41 Obsession
3:10 Candyman Messiah (Radio Edit; unlabelled)
3:58 Judgment Day
3:12 Everytime You Lie
3:22 Israelism
3:32 La Plage De Saint Tropez
3:55 I Am
3:28 Lit De Parade (Radio Edit; unlabelled)
3:58 Sexual Revolution
4:00 Life Is Fantastic (The 1995 Remix)
3:59 Stand Up For Myself (The 1995 Remix)
4:31 Requiem

Les Greatest Hits (1996) Album (18 tracks)
Re-release including the following track instead of the 1995 remix of Stand Up For Myself
3:57 King Midas

Master Series (1997) Album (18 tracks)
3:32 Crucified
3:27 Ride The Bullet (1991 Remix)
3:27 My Army Of Lovers
3:39 Obsession
4:57 Love Me Like A Loaded Gun
4:27 When The Night Is Cold
3:44 We Stand United
3:24 Candyman Messiah
3:58 Judgment Day
3:20 Israelism
3:32 La Plage De Saint Tropez
3:54 I Am
3:27 Lit De Parade (Radio Edit; unlabelled)
3:58 Sexual Revolution
3:59 Stand Up For Myself
3:54 Give My Life
3:30 Venus And Mars
3:45 The Day The Gods Help Us All

13 May 2010


Purveyors of shiny pop gems to the masses, Erasure was formed by Vince Clarke in 1985. Fresh from Yazoo and a couple of collaborations with Feargal Sharkey (under the name The Assembly) and Paul Quinn, Erasure drew on the best of Vince's early work. It built upon the cheerful bleepings of early Depeche Mode, adding a little more depth to the rather strange lyrics of songs like New Life and Dreaming Of Me, and exchanging Alison Moyet's 'rootsy blues' vocals with the choir-boy falsetto of Andy Bell. That's a different Andy Bell to the one from Ride - Erasure's new vocalist was an ex-butcher and glittery gay diva in the making. Since its humble beginnings, Erasure has produced two decade's worth of shiny disco beeps and managed five number one albums and twenty-five top 20 singles, fusing Andy's thoughtful lyrics with Vince's ever-evolving synths.

Humble beginnings, yes: Vince, seeking a further outlet for his musical success with Depeche Mode and Yazoo, advertised for a singer. It had worked with Yazoo (Yaz, in America.), enticing fellow Basildonian to work closely with Vince to produce two knock-out synth albums and four hit singles. Forty candidates later, Andy Bell made the grade and in September of 1985 the first single Who Needs Love Like That was released. It barely charted, and the follow up single, Heavenly Action was doomed to a similar fate. Even 1986's 'Oh l'Amour' made little impression on the UK charts.

Releasing Wonderland, the first album, Erasure took the opportunity to tour, taking the synths on an extended tour of sparsely-populated back rooms and university student union bars. It was during this phase, working hard to drum up support, that Erasure's single Sometimes, taken from the second album The Circus, slipped into the UK charts at number two. The third album, The Innocents, swooped in at number one on the British album chart, as did its follow up, Wild!, both albums producing a range of hit singles but never quite managing to achieve the elusive number one spot. Chorus followed in 1991: Erasure were on a roll.

Famed for a certain camp charm, it was this relentless, in-your-face homosexuality that led to b-sides like No GDM, songs like Pistol and Sexuality, and the eventual 1992 release of ABBA-esque. Four ABBA covers, complete with shimmering front-cover and a range of dreadful remixes, pushed Erasure to number one for the first time ever. They followed up with a greatest hits album, and have since kept up a warm, analogue sound. I Say I Say I Say marked Erasure's last real chart success, producing the singles Always, Run To The Sun and I Love Saturday. Though Erasure have in no way been unsuccessful since, albums such as the eponymous Erasure (a masterpiece of entirely uncommercial ambient twiddlings), Cowboy and the cover versions of Other People's Songs have been moderately but hardly staggeringly successful. The second greatest hits album can often mark the beginning of the end, though Erasure rallied round with the 2005's Nightbird and 2007's Light At The End Of The World.

The eighties were notable for bands like Erasure, of course. Bronski Beat, The Communards, Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell all embodied the two-blokes-with-a-synth feel of the era, and it was all the better if one of them was gay. In Thatcher's Britain, homosexuality was embroiled in a mess of 'family values' propaganda and Clause 28 villification campaigns. Andy Bell, openly gay and camper than a row of fairy-lit pink tents, joined a significant group of talented, popular and openly-gay pop frontmen, bringing the very idea that perhaps it's not too bad to be gay to an ungrateful quantity of conservative homophobes.

Erasure show no signs of splitting up, though both Vince and Andy are free to pursue their own side-projects. Andy Bell intends to release a solo album in the near future, though it's been on the cards for years, and Vince Clarkehas recently teamed up with Martyn Ware (of Heaven 17 and early Human League fame) to produce ambient soundscapes, including a piece intended for the National Centre For Popular Music's Soundscapes 3D auditorium, utilising cutting edge Lake Huron audio processing hardware. Clarke And Ware are a little less pop than Erasure, producing cutting-edge synth with an emphasis on technical wizardry; Pretentious and Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle are vocal-free ambient epics, with an unmistakeable Vince Clark spin.

Erasure: Maybe not as active as The Pet Shop Boys, but just as much fun...

Album Discography:
Wonderland (1986)
The Circus (1987)
The Two Ring Circus (1987)
The Innocents (1988)
Wild! (1989)
Chorus (1991)
Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992)
I Say I Say I Say (1994)
Erasure (1995)
Cowboy (1997)
Loveboat (2000)
Other People's Songs (2003)
Hits! The Very Best Of Erasure (2003)
Nightbird (2005)
Light At The End Of The World (2007)

07 May 2010

Black Hearts In Battersea

Hot on the heels of Joan Aiken's The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase comes Black Hearts In Battersea. Simon, the resourceful, heroic young boy from Willoughby Chase was, at the end of the first book, just getting into art. On his way now to London to study painting he, unfortunately, stumbles onto a plot reminiscent of the first book.

Wicked assassins are planning to overthrow King James and the Duke and Duchess of Battersea. A diverse and twisted plot ensues, featuring all the things children are sure to love: more wild wolves, excessive kidnappings, a shipwreck and a range of poisoned pies all make an appearance.

Bonnie and Sylvia have a minor role in the story, but most of it takes place in the company of Simon and Dido Twite, another of those waif-like children Joan Aiken seems to enjoy depicting so much.

Joan Aiken was born in Sussex, England, and her clear enjoyment of the English culture is plain: her subtle and gentle poking of fun at the English establishment works well as she continues to explore her alternate history where the Stuarts have retained the throne and a Channel Tunnel already exists. Those who have read The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase will undoubtedly wish to continue the experience; those who have not would do well to seek out Willoughby Chase, though each book will, of course, stand alone.

05 May 2010

Explorers Of The New Century - Magnus Mills

Explorers Of The New Century is a novel by Magnus Mills, orignially published in 1995. It's his fifth novel, and conforms perfectly to the style of Mills' previous works while maintaining a quite obvious distance. This style is a complex one. Mills has been compared to Kafka, and with good reason. Allegory, banality and comedy mix together in Mr Mills' prose, which is so descriptive and yet so deceptive. Don't miss a word - they're all important and, looking back once you've finished each novel, you'll see just how much a single, throwaway phrase can matter.

In the meantime, just enjoy the words. Mills conjures up a parallel world of Pinter-esque horror, situations far from modern reality and yet curiously reminiscent of normal, everyday life. I recently re-read Explorers Of The New Century in one afternoon. Once again, the progression of the story blew me away. It is allegory, pure and simple, although the actual meaning of the story is more difficult to define. Ostensibly about a simple expedition to the 'agreed farthest point', with the book even designed to look like a Victorian hardback adventure novel. And yet there's far more going on, hinted at with an underlying tension to the interactions between the characters. There are plot twists, too - great wrenching twists that you simply don't see coming at all. No spoilers, I'm afraid: you're going to have to read it.

Explorers Of The New Century was published in 1995 by Bloomsbury. Its ISBN is 0747580189 (Hardback), and I'm afraid that while it's in print and available to buy, Bookmooch copies are scarce.

01 May 2010

Tomorrow, In A Year - The Knife, Mt. Sims and Planningtorock

I remember being disappointed. The Knife were planning something of a hiatus, and it was showing all indications of lasting a while. As it happened, the period of dearth I had dreaded didn't last too long: the Karin Dreijer part suddenly produced a 'Fever Ray' album out of nowhere, whilst Olof Dreijer produced the most interminably dreadful remix known to man and shoved it on the (can I be bothered to do the characters? no, fuckit) Year Zero Remixed album. (Trent and I still disagree on the whole Year Zero thing, but so far he's refusing to talk to me.)

Tomorrow - in a year, no less! - came out of months and months of hard work, I'm sure, but it sounds best if I say it came out of nowhere. Suddenly an email appears - The Knife are involved in an opera, along with a band I'd only heard of on a DJ Hell compilation which included the demurely-titled 'Hate Fuck'. Planningtorock remain a mystery, but one well worth exploring, assuming that their involvement with the CD goes beyond planning and extends into knob-twiddling and general electrical jiggery-pokery.

That's what this work is about, actually. The calls of birds, the movement of geological structures, the interaction of swarming shoals and endlessly calling birds, desperate for a mate; that's what it's all about. Inducing an analogue synthesizer to give birth to the mating call of a short-billed thrush, twisting it through a low-frequency oscillator to emulate its more evolved cousin, then mixing the two: this is what the album is about.

Darwin, his work, the justification for our existence - it's all brought into focus, as Karin manipulates her voice over the analogue workings of her brother, Mt. Sims and Planningtorock. Twisting and winding, the instrumentation tells a story, and the soaring, the twisting and the wailing, screeching synths all conspire to clarify the situation.

Let's be clear: if you don't get the idea, then from track one through to ten, you're listening to something you don't want to hear. It's not Lady Gaga. It's not Thelonious Monk accidentally playing what turn out to be the right notes. It's a synthetic representation of the evolutionary processes which form Darwin's theory, and it's perfection. What more can be said than that I listen to it for pleasure, and that those who inhabit the room with me do not? Does everyone believe that 'The Haywain' is the ultimate expression of art? Does everyone search for a new 'Mona Lisa'? Are Dali's massively-stilted elephants not a valid representation of art?

This work - Tomorrow, In A Year - is genius.