Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Reptile House EP

I can remember when the Banshees' "difficult second album" (music press cliché) Join Hands came out in 1979, the Sounds reviewer (possibly Dave Henderson)  complained that two days with the LP and no lyric sheet was a disorientating, somewhat disturbing ordeal. Similar things were written about Unknown Pleasures on its release, and the third of the triumvirate would be The Reptile House. When it was announced that the Girls planned to release a mini-LP of the slower burning songs, only those who had seen the songs played live, or who had heard the rather rudimentary versions on the Jensen session (see earlier post) could have guessed what was to come. After Alice, still riding high in the Indie charts along with follow-up Anaconda, the average posi-punk fan would have been as shocked - but surely impressed - by the contents. Doktor Avalanche's supply of speed seemed to have been replaced by Mogadon, meaning that none of the tracks would find favour in the rapidly expanding network of indie clubs across Europe. Moreover, on only one of the tracks, Lights, did Eldritch deign to start singing within the first minute of the song, thereby making the tracks virtually unplayable on radio.Commercial suicide ? It should have been, yet it was The Reptile House EP which cemented the band's reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Lead track Kiss The Carpet may be derided for its low-brow lyrical content (indeed all the songs seem to be written in a way which allows the words to be interpreted either as cod-Freudian sexual references to the lyricist's inadequacy or as a confession of his increasing alleged reliance on illegal substances), but it continues to this day to be a fantastic gig-opener. The studio version takes over three minutes to really get underway, even longer than Joy Division's Dead Souls (like contemporary lazy journalists, I find it hard to write about RH without reference to JD), with Gunn's initial solo superceded by Marx, then Adams and penultimately the Doktor before Eldritch kicks in with the lyrics with nearly three and a half minutes on the clock, a time by which both Alice and Anaconda would be over ! Lights sees a reverb-bathed Eldritch deliver one of his most impassioned vocals, and was potentially the most commercial of the tracks, whilst Valentine's spartan arrangement and crescendo ending was the highlight for many at the time. The half-whispered Fix had more than a few echoes of the Velvets' Venus in Furs, the guitars having a bowed, almost hurdy-gurdy like sound. Burn, the title track about the fire in a reptile house (many lyrical interpretations possible here !) suffered from too many vocal effects, whilst the final reprise of KTC was clearly an attempt to boost the track count, being barely more substantial than Home of The Hitmen. The Reptile House was far from perfect : two of the tracks, Lights and Burn, suffered from Eldritch's bizarre predilection for singing one section of the song seemingly in a different key (the second "sodium haze" section, the latter "in the fire in the reptile house" section, and like the much later "everything will be alright" section of NTTC), whilst the overall production was a little dull. I can still remember the day in May '83 when the word on the street was that Jumbo Records had had a delivery of the new Sisters mini-LP, and £3.49 later I was sitting in my flat looking at a real departure for the band, for there, along with the house style record cover, containing no extraneous info or photos of the band (crucial for Von's "man of mystery" persona), was a lyric sheet, which also contained the band members' names, and details of where the recording ahd taken place and with whom. The EP seemed ground-breaking at the time and has lost little of its initial power, and heralded a summer of slowed-down indie choons, with Hull's Red Guitars releasing the seminal Good Technology barely a month later, and even hard-core punk darlings Blitz coming up with goth-synth TelecommunicationsThe Reptile House EP proved that The Sisters were here to stay ...

1 comment:

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