Thursday, 3 April 2014

Fatima Mansions - Valhalla Avenue (1992)

Fatima Mansions managed to more or less pass me by at the time, excepting North-Atlantic Wind which Andrew Cox stuck on a tape and which impressed me as possibly the most terrifying song ever recorded; and yet somehow I never got around to further investigation, aside from the Nite Flights 10" which, two decades later, I've still probably played only once. I don't know - it was a blind spot, I guess; possibly the influence of Melody Maker which I read weekly, but almost entirely for the David Stubbs material which was always roughly forty times more entertaining than anything else in there - notably features on all those bands with Union Jack guitars singing quirky songs about Harold Pinter characters whilst pretending Cathy Come Home had only just hit the picture houses.

Or was that all a bit later?

Who cares? It was shite anyway, and whilst Fatima Mansions were patently nothing to do with any of that - or the spirit of optimism in general - I seem to recall their getting voted album of the year or something, which was probably enough to put me off the scent.

With hindsight, even leaving aside the most terrifying song ever recorded, I can see why Andrew enjoyed this stuff. Valhalla Avenue, and I suppose by extension Cathal Coughlan's songwriting, puts me roughly in mind of a happier Jim Thirlwell of Foetus, or at least a more gleeful Jim Thirlwell. It's theatrical to the point of being offensive, apocalyptic cabaret for want of a less ludicrous term - material of such a quality that Sinatra could quite easily have sung a few of these had he been less worried about offending anyone within a fifty mile radius. Actually, I have no idea whether Sinatra ever worried about offending anyone, but lyrical turns such as people dressed as cows form an orderly queue for a drug that makes you dead for a second or two seem a little more barbed than his usual fare, and he probably wouldn't have gone for that whole pretending to bugger oneself with a figure of the Virgin Mary whilst on stage in Rome routine; and yes, seeing as I've introduced religion as a subject, this is the sort of madness which could only have been born of Roman Catholicism in all its God fearing spectacle, which - to briefly turn on the autoreview whilst I go and make a coffee - might account for the manic fervour of Coughlan's delivery, a golden voice delivering sermons with the insane force of ten Ian Paisleys. John Peel apparently said he could have happily listened to Coughlan singing the phone book, and yes, I take his point. Listening to Go Home Bible Mike, it doesn't take long before you too wish Bible Mike would piss off. In fact even vicars listening to Go Home Bible Mike will almost certainly find themselves telling the guy to stick that feckin' book up his poo-chute. Then of course we come to:

In the all-night party at the chemical plant,
Everybody's feeling grand.
The Irish peasants haven't had this much fun,
Since their ancestors fled the land.
A man with a hammer smashes down a wall,
And everybody shouts, "Hooray!"
And the virgins get taken in the shower stalls,
Where the cyanide comes up the drains.
Don't call an ambulance if you can't pay.

North-Atlantic Wind - a nihilist hymn to the inevitability of birth into a cruel world preceding a bleak, meaningless death - still chills me to the bone, and it's just a song, albeit a song which makes Killing Joke at their most embittered sound like Travis having a wistful day because it's raining and the really great indie music record shop is closed; and yet it's scored with that big band sound that could segue effortlessly into something from The Lion King at any moment, whilst nevertheless sharing certain compositional similarities with Nine Inch Nails.

I'm not sure why it's taken me twenty years to catch up with this, but I'm glad to have finally cottoned on.

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