Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Virgin Prunes - A New Form of Beauty (1982)

My first encounter with the music of the Virgin Prunes was at my friend Graham's house. We'd already discovered Throbbing Gristle, Alternative TV, the Residents, Faust, Wreckless Eric and Cabaret Voltaire through raids made on his older brother's frankly astonishing record collection, and this time it was A New Form of Beauty 3, the 12" component of an album released as a series of singles and a cassette. I didn't really know much about the Prunes, but the cover was great, and Beast (Seven Bastard Suck) sounded impressively terrifying. Unfortunately my funds - a combination of pocket money and what I collected from a paper round - didn't really extend to adding yet another band to the coterie of those whose records I would purchase immediately upon release and without question, so I somehow managed to miss out on this lot. I have since seen it opined on some blog that the Virgin Prunes could be roughly considered the most criminally underrated band of all time, and that this is in part due to their music having been out of print for much of the last three decades, which is probably a contributing factor to how long it's taken me to get there.

For those who weren't aware, the Virgin Prunes grew up in the same teenage gang as U2, feature the Edge's brother on guitar, and bestowed upon Bongo his nickname. Listening to their music and considering their enduring obscurity, it's difficult to avoid seeing them as either the repellent
Dorian Gray portrait in Bongo's attic, or at least a sort of dark karmic underside to U2's rosy cheeked optimism. Where U2 once stood atop a picturesque crag of God's good Earth with their youthful locks flowing cinematically in the breeze of passion, the Virgin Prunes writhed about in poo, smudged their make-up, and screamed and wailed as the more conservative members of the congregation asked one another is it a boy or a girl?

Gothic probably doesn't really cover it. Not only do they predate the term as a popular signifier of frowny faced bands with tastefully back-combed hair, but they made most of that bunch look like Buck's fucking Fizz. Drums bang, guitars scream and screech, and it all sounds very much like a performance, something closer in spirit to a story than a song in the traditional sense. For a while I was thinking Brecht or maybe Hogarth - something consumptive you can almost smell - but the more I familiarise myself with this music, it begins to sound positively iron age - primitive and weird beyond reason, Old Testament even, the kind of music with which one might praise a golden calf. There aren't really tunes so much as, I suppose, grooves, compelling and slightly fetid, and delivered with the force of sermons promising that you are all going to burn in hell!

I have a hunch that this may actually be how Porridge always imagined Psychic TV would sound, except of course they never did through being hamstrung by the presence of the selfsame oat-based William Burroughs' autograph hunter. This is the violent pre-Christian noise all those awful Crowleyite bands promised but never delivered because at heart, they really just wanted to sell their droning records to each other and get to hang out with the famous Porridge. This was the real thing, definitely underrated, and as the name promises, very beautiful in its own way. This disturbing, caustic racket really was a new form of beauty.

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