Sunday, June 1, 2008

A strange kind of feelin'

Sifting through a box of cassettes this weekend, I was struck by how many of the goddamn things I still own. Belinda Carlisle and Thompson Twins you'd expect, but also albums as recent as Massive Attack's Mezzanine and PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love. So I've decided, inspired in part by Thomas' now-defunct tape blog, to review a couple of these a week. I don't have a name for this feature yet. I have no interest in reviewing the justly famous ones either -- I'm interested in explaining why I got albums by artists who must have done something to capture my interest besides an asymmetrical haircut and involvement with the Traveling Wilburys. I might even share an anecdote or two (heavens). Anyway, I'd an album like this one in mind....

Peter Murphy - Deep

In 1990 I was fifteen. I used to bike to a local record store beside a bowling alley called Jukebox Records, which has long since closed shop. I would read SPIN and race over to buy the Stone Roses, Michael Penn, Lenny Kravitz, Public Enemy, and the Blue Aeroplanes. On a whim, I'd bought the cassingle to "Cuts You Up." That synthesized violin hook combined with Murphy's portentous basso and inscrutable lyrics defined the ineffability of art on adolescent terms; it sounded, er, deep (Murphy never defined what exactly "it" was that cut you up and spit you out -- love? sharks?) . The album doesn't disappoint either. If you like this sort of thing, it's the best of its kind: sharply arranged, hooky, Goth-inflected alterna-rock cresting just as Disintegration and Pretty Hate Machine were making KROQs of every college radio station. "Crystal Wrists" and "Deep Ocean Vast Sea" jangle and churn, respectively, all praise due to walloping production and how proficiently Murphy's band the Hundred Men negotiate the tricky chord changes, especially when he decides to ascend an octave without seemingly telling them; and "A Strange Kind of Love" lives up to its title, a mostly acoustic hymn whose open door to a wide vast dominion exposes an emotional range of which Murphy's hollow cheeks seem scarely aware. He would spend the next few years trying to conjure its houdou again, to diminishing results ("Hit Song," "Let Me Love You").

Replaying it in the car a few days ago, I was impressed by how well it held up, despite my long-since-filed reservations about Murphy's Bowie/Iggy affectations (the less Bowie you own, the more original Murphy sounds) and how little love I've got for the two records bookending Deep. Eighteen (!) years later, Deep serves as one of those chart anomalies that signaled the end of the era rather than the culmination of one: despite the album and single's Top Fifty placing ("Cuts You Up" was also Billboard's number one "modern rock single" that year, back when this meant something), it did little for Murphy's commercial standing besides getting him on Dennis Miller's show in 1992 to perform "The Sweetest Drop," and was the last and greatest hit by this brand of eighties pretension before the charts stank of teen spirit. Shows how much we knew: teen spirit comprises much of Murphy's striking of received poses.


Ned said...

Terrible album, of course. Why, I saw him twice on that tour and still have the T-shirt and even still listen to the album every so often to confirm it!

(I'm not a good liar.)

sexy said...