Various Artists: Gothic Rock

Was goth really any more than wearing silly clothes and humming funereal dirges?

GOTH HAS always been more of a fashion statement than a musical phenomenon. Unlike punk, metal or hardcore – all of which have had an influence on gothic rock – no one really knows what this chimerical genre actually sounds like. Words like baroque, Wagnerian, dank and mordant may spring to mind, but at the end of the day what exactly does Fields Of The Nephilim’s bluesy, slide-guitar rocker ‘Preacher Man’ have in common with Theatre Of Hate’s clumping post-punk chant ‘Black Madonna’ or the mechanoid, drum machine-driven live rant of Alien Sex Fiend’s ‘Now I’m Feeling Zombified’?

Another mystery is why the most visible acts associated with goth have constantly been at such pains to distance themselves from, the genre. Don’t come looking here for anything by The Sisters Of Mercy (who virtually invented all this), The Mission, The Cure or All About Eve.

There are few answers to be gleaned from Mick Mercer’s cheerfully chaotic liner notes – the Nephilim’s song is described as “a precise and winsome microwave of maudlin angst” – nor indeed from his fanzine-style book, Gothic Rock…All You Ever Wanted To Know But Were Too Gormless To Ask (reviewed Q65) for which this album is a companion.

But what seems self-evident is the perennially limiting effect of the goth tag, forcing those acts which do not renounce and transcend it to remain in an underground limbo indefinitely. There are plenty of those here: no-hopers like Specimen (with their song ‘Syria’), Play Dead (‘Propaganda’), Creaming Jesus (‘Reptile’) and the ultimate glad-to-be-goth types Nosferatu (‘Dark Angel’) who travel to gigs in a hearse and publish a fanzine called Grimoire.

More promising is The Virgin Prunes’ ‘Pagan Love Song’ with its neurotic hammering drum tattoo, The Marionettes’ graceful rock-chorale ‘Ave Dementia’ and Danse Society’s Fall-influenced lament ‘We’re So Happy’. Other curios to tempt the goth nostalgia buff include early/rare recordings by Bauhaus (‘Dark Entries’), Southern Death Cult (‘Moya’), Gene Loves Jezebel (‘Shaving My Neck’) and Bauhaus spin offs Tones On Tail (‘Burning Skies’).

In an irritating reversal of the usual situation, five tracks from the double LP/cassette are omitted from the (single) CD format, among them the menacing ‘Assassin 64’ by ranking Eldritch-clone James Ray & The Performance, one of the best tracks on the album.

While goth will always be haunted by the spectre of Dave Vanian, strip away the pantomime vamp routines and it is the ghosts of Jim Morrison and David Bowie who roam the corridors of this album, accounting between them for the deep, stylised English drawl favoured by several of the singers and the whole lounge lizard, black leather, born-to-wander-in-Hades attitude evoked by everyone. But despite such distinguished forebears, the musical evidence suggests a collection of superficial talents at work.

© Mat SnowQ, July 1992

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