Writing about music is like dancing about architecture

Monday, 6 June 2011

SECESSION - A DARK ENCHANTMENT

In the pre-Internet age it was sometimes impossible to find out anything about a band.
When I was a teenager the only source of information on most bands was the NME. If you couldn't read about a band in the music press then there was no hope of finding out anything. No glossy monthly magazines, no newspaper coverage of pop music, no websites or itunes and of course with the likes of DLT and Kid Jensen ruling the Radio 1 airwaves you could be sure that you would only hear the charts. On reflection it's a small miracle that anyone knew anything about anything!
I simply cannot remember why I bought this record. I can remember the tiny record shop I bought it in. I can remember who I was with and what they bought. But why did I pick this record and not any others?
So let's pretend that we are in a world with no Wikipedia. How do you find out information about the bands you love? Well one way was to look at the sleeve. Really, really look at it. After all that was all you had. Unfortunately this sleeve doesn't give much away. The inner sleeve declares 'Songs About Love and Death'. The band mysteriously use initials instead of first names, although there are some band photos so I knew that one of the band was female.
Don't forget that A Dark Enchantment came out in 1987. I'd grown up with record sleeves that were so well designed that it sometime didn't matter what the record was like. Think Peter Saville and Factory, think The Smiths on Rough Trade, or 4AD.
So I get home and put the needle on the record.
This is a record with so many ideas that it can never settle on one thing.  It wants to be a happy sparkly kind of record but at the same time it wants to be a dark brooding angry record.
The inescapable comparison, which I thought the very first time I listened to it, is with New Order. But that is a good thing not a bad thing. Listen to Love Lies Bleeding and you'll hear a band that deserved to play for clubs full of spannered ravers.
Love Lies Bleeding is them at their happy dancefloor friendly best.
 And then they follow it up with something like Sneakyville, apparently inspired by the Manson killings and sounding something like Depeche Mode all deep voices and brooding synth lines.

The whole record is somewhat off-kilter. It flirts with so many styles, masters some and fails to get others right. The lyrics are, for the most part impenetrable. I can never seem to get on top of the music, or perhaps I mean under the skin of it. Just when I think I have Secession down, they slip out of my grasp and lead me on to somewhere else. For every moment of beauty on Ocean Blue there is the terrible sax solo on Radioland. For the wonderful synth sounds in The Magician there is the terrible guitar in the same song.

I loved that unknowable element to them. All I had was the music and even the music couldn't be pinned down.

I love the internet but sometime I feel that we have lost something too.

Of course now I can find out as much as the band as I want.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say. Does having the story of the band add to the music? Not for me, as I loved the music already even when the creators were faceless.
In a way it was this way of thinking that prepared me for my love affair with house music when I first heard it in 1988 - only a year after buying this record. It was the 'purity' of the music, untrammelled by images or human faces that I loved. Finding and falling for this record prepared me for that.


I've never met anyone else with this record and although I have now discovered that it only had a very small pressing, I like to think that there is a select band of lucky people who took a chance on something unknown and were rewarded.

3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your blog, I have this on cd, purchased in maybe 1990? I loved it, played it obsessively. Knowing nothing about the band, I theorized that they had made a deal with the devil to make this one, haunting album. Who knows? Now, I'm older and wiser, but listening to A Box that Holds a Secret still fills me with such a sense of nostalgia and longing, especially as the relationship that began in those early, happy, music buying days died an unhappy death a year ago this month.

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  2. Interesting tid bit - The song 'Winifred' is about the Jonestown massacre

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  3. This album is a masterpiece of later-era synthpop.

    The mixed style actually serves it well, as many bands often did the same with their debut album (think Depeche mode's first two albums).

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