Before I begin, I want you all to know that this wasn’t my original choice for review today — no, that was originally going to be an Ataraxia album that is now being put off for later. Maybe I was “instructed” to review this one instead, cos all I know is that, aside from the car ride to and from MichiCon at Oakland University last night, I’ve been listening to this album for the larger part of three or four days (not all of which has been logged on Last.FM), and even when I’ve been listening to other things, this is what I hear with my mind’s ear.
Shriekback are probably one of the most delightfully intelligent pop-rock bands in existence. Think of what Roxy Music could have been in Brian Eno had stuck around and they absorbed Gary Numan at some point — or maybe that’s just my fantasy? Or maybe I’m cutting Numan a little too much credit?
Now, you may be asking why I’m reviewing this one, after all, Oil & Gold has the song about Nemesis; most likely, though, you’re probably not asking yourself that, and I’m just geeking out. The plain truth is, this is not only one of my personal favourite Shriekback albums, it is my personal opinion that this is probably their most spiritual album.
Most of Shriekback’s albums are just different enough from each-other that each can possibly pass for a concept album, and many really do have loose lyrical themes connecting most of the songs, in which case, Sacred City is an experimental art rock album with songs about spirituality and the city of London.
Much like some of the songs from Oil & Gold, the instrumentation on much of Sacred City is apparently influenced (at least in part) by the same sort of pan-Mediterranean folk music that Dead Can Dance seems to have made their careers on, but unlike Dead Can Dance, the apparent electronics drive this into a set of rock rhythms that evolved from the proto-”post-punk” sound that came from XTC (the band Shriekback frontman Barry Andrews was a part of before Shriekback); don’t get me wrong, Shriekback very much has their own sound, and it’s also obvious how and why they were influential on what would later become techno-industrial (especially their first two studio albums), but the jangling guitars and stealthy bass-lines don’t leave Shriekback out-of-place in a record collection featuring Love & Rockets and Japan.
Of especial note on this one are:
“(Open Up Your) Filthy Heart (To Me)”, a literal love song to the city. The tempo is between ballad and lullabye and addresses the city as an ancient entity, something that has had many expectations placed on it, but rarely, though occasionally, loved for what it is — not just its history and majesty, but its very essence, its soul.
“Beatles Zebra Crossing?” is about the cross-walk featured prominently on the cover of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road. Seems an odd choice of topic for a song, but that little patch of land contains so much history, both personal and communal, back to the era of the Roman Empire.
“Hymn To the Local Gods” probably has the most broad appeal to the Hellenic community, if only because it both paints a romantic portrait of culture-wide polytheism in general, and portrays the Gods as living and very much still alive, suggesting that “they never died, we only lost their number”, and even encourages to “leave a fire in the window, Pour the wine under the underpass” and renew worship and libations, ask back the local Gods.
Album ender, “Every Force Evolves a Form” is a very close runner-up to “Hymn To the Local Gods”, and the message of the lyrics is pretty much the title, but orchestrated in a full-bodied piece ripe for dance.
Again, I admit, this one probably doesn’t have as broad appeal for the Hellenismos community as the album I had originally intended to review today, and if anybody gets disappointed with that I apologise, but really, it could have been worse — my tastes are just varied enough that I can say that, eventually, I’m going to review something of no interest to anybody else reading this, and most of you will probably hate it. But I don’t feel I’m wrong to recommend this one; it has apparent potential appeal to pagans and polytheists, and anybody seeking the sacred amongst the cities.