Thursday, 30 June 2016

Nocturnal Emissions - Shake Those Chains, Rattle Those Cages (1985)


This seems an odd one even for a band who weren't above releasing albums packaged in a nappy - or diaper if you're reading this in the United States. Nocturnal Emissions had moved into moderately more tuneful territories since 1983's Viral Shedding - a rare beast which actually does sort of sound like house music before house music was a thing - or at least into the territory of their customary noise assault cannily rearranged so as to fool you into thinking it's pop music. Songs of Love and Revolution was some kind of punk hybrid with synthesisers and a refreshingly direct message - let's throw bricks at coppers rather than any of that I'm interestingly pretending to be Hitler so as to make a wry, playful comment on the nature of consumerism bollocks which was apparently still paying the bills at le Ch√Ęteau de Porridge; and then this turned up in the shops and I bought it because it was Nocturnal Emissions.

More recently I finally got hold of Caroline K's Now Wait For Last Year, having been a bit skint when it first came out and not having realised there had been a reissue by Klanggalerie - which has inevitably sent me back to this one because some of the tracks are clearly related. I suppose this dates from roughly around the time that Caroline K was becoming less involved in Nocturnal Emissions, and Shake Those Chains, Rattle Those Cages feels like a collection of loose ends gathered together before moving onto the next thing, which by my calculations would have been the more organic, archaeological version of the Emissions and the setting up of Earthly Delights as a label.

All that being said, this is possibly my favourite Nocturnal Emissions record.

The live side was recorded at Bourbonese Qualk's Ambulance Station pretty much at the height of the British government being at war with its own people last time around, what with the miners' strike and everything; and it's unfortunately not that remarkable, an efficiently recorded snapshot of Nocturnal Emissions resumption of noisier activities whilst still wrestling with things that sound almost like songs.

The studio side however - just four tracks presumably constituting Caroline's final work with the band - represent some of the most emotionally powerful stuff I've heard from any band saddled with the unfortunate tag of industrial. Cleaner instrumental renderings of a couple of the tracks resurfaced on Now Wait For Last Year, but for my money, they were at their best here. The key to their power in this instance is that Nocturnal Emissions were writing songs using melody and sound with the same vaguely brutalist hand which informs the noise of Tissue of Lies and those earlier rackets; so the music sounds like a noise half-heard pounding away through reinforced concrete which has accidentally formed itself into something of near classical grandeur. The arrangement is at times so evocative it makes you want to cry, an invocation of the saddest thing in the world, a moment of such profound sorrow that only music could describe it - and of course it's very much a Nocturnal Emissions arrangement with everything in the wrong place, deliberately awkward, too loud or too quiet and just for the sake of seeing what the fuck will happen.

Nine o'clock... nine-thirty... nine minutes to ten...

Until what? Until they take you out to the back of the chemical sheds and stick a bullet in your head, by the sound of it; but it could just as well be about love. It has the same gravity.

I haven't been able to find a single review of this record online, which seems peculiar given the numerous eulogies recently written about Caroline's solo album - deservedly so, but this is still a more satisfying work for my money - one of the all-time greats in fact.

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