Thursday, 17 January 2013

Anaconda XXX

Anaconda has always seemed to be the runt of the MR litter, barely played live between 84 and 93, the track shoved to the end of the SGWBM compilation, and the last single not to get a 12” release. Popular wisdom held that it was weaker than what preceded and succeeded it, a simple riff extended into a song, lacking the production sheen ofAlice/Floorshow, the bombast of The Reptile House, and the commercial hook of Temple of Love. Amazingly thirty years have passed since it seemed to almost leak out (different shops seemed to get the band’s releases at different times, and although the usual release date is given as March ’83, I seem to remember getting a copy only a few weeks after the Leeds gig of January 83), so maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the song. Its genesis can be heard in the Portastudio demo widely believed to have been recorded around the time of the Alice single, and it made its way into the setlist in time for the first Sisters gig I personally witnessed at Leeds in October 82. Ironically for someone whose attitude to drugs has often been viewed as ambivalent at best, Eldritch’s lyric is fiercely anti-drug. Following on from imploring a tranquiliser addicted Alice not to “give it away”, Von likens heroin’s grip on a female as being serpentine, extending the metaphor to include the constriction, drawing clear parallels between a user’s tourniquet and the anaconda’s preferred method of killing its prey. The addiction, like the snake will end up squeezing the life out of her, ending in her death, which the singer is unwilling to imitate “baby go where I don’t follow…to the other side.” As Eldritch said in a contemporary interview, “There's far too many smack songs which are a bit too callously irresponsible,” and here he was clearly intending to redress the balance. Although some of the imagery used - “china doll”, “marble figure” “face turn to a mask” etc may seem hackneyed, the extended metaphor works well and, unusually for an Eldritch lyric, the  message is both powerful and clear. Musically the song is also one of the band’s finest. The upgraded Doktor Avalanche gets a ten second solo at the start, as on so many songs of this period, and his beefed up beats and mechanised slaps pin reverberate through the listener before, uniquely,  Eldritch comes in virtually at the same time as the band to grab the attention. However, the fact that Craig Adam’s bass riff features so prominently in the mix makes him the dominant player on this track, as he had been on the classic Alice/Floorshow single which preceded it. Marx was reduced to a discordant riff between verses and Gunn virtually redundant until the song’s highlight, a magnificent fifty second instrumental section immediately after the first chorus, showing just what a tight unit the “other three” had become at this stage. The overall impression is of a more muscular Joy Division, a factor accentuated by the close similarity between the “let it wrap itself around her” riff and the main riff of Macclesfield miserabilists’ finest moment, Dead Souls, from the sequence of guitar chords right down to the high bass note at the end of the bar. Eldritch’s vocals, which increasingly dominate the rest of the four minute plus song, become more dramatic as the song reaches its inevitable cautionary lyrical denouement, but are never as mannered in a Bowie-via –Richard-Butler way as they were on Alice. Dismissed as lightweight at the time and ignored for many years, the song has enjoyed a millennial renaissance with fans and band alike as one of the old songs given new life by a faster pace (in pure BPM it was always one of the quicker tracks anyway) and a transformed chorus. The only disappointment was the B side, Phantom, the Spaghetti Western instrumental version of Floorshow, which would also turn up on the 12” of Alice originally allegedly intended only for the overseas market. This was the first inkling of the disappointing policy towards B sides which would dog the band in theFloodland and Vision Thing eras, with a few notable exceptions, but the A side was so magnificent that most diehard fans were prepared to forgive them anything.