Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cabaret Voltaire: Eight Crespuscule Tracks

In the long, interesting career of Cabaret Voltaire, there have been arguably several phases in the band's history.  The first, from their founding about 1973 until about 1982, has variously been labeled as "industrial," employing harsh, dissonant sounds from electronic equipment, clarinets and saxophones, bass, electric guitar, drum machines (and, occasionally, live drums), and others.  Barked or whispered vocals, often highly processed, vaguely referred to terrorist groups or mind control or authoritarianism or religious hypocrisy.  To those inclined to this claustrophobic (in a good way) presentation of a wide array of sound, these were the glory years of CV, when they were at their most experimental, confrontational, bracing and challenging.

YHB does not disagree, but also does not hold the other phases as inferior—merely different.  And, while many might argue, persuasively, that the 1981 album Red Mecca was the highlight of the era and that the 1982 record 2x45 was another high point that showed the band in transition in sound as well as lineup, as founding member Chris Watson departed, leaving Richard H. Kirk and Stephen Mallinder to carry on as a duo, there is another recording that has struck this blogger as an essential document of the so-called "early" Cabs.

This is Eight Crepuscule Tracks, a compilation released on Giant Records in the U. S. by license with the groundbreaking independent Belgian label, Les Disques du Crépuscule.  Actually, the latter company had released an EP called Three Crepuscule Tracks in 1981 and this later release takes those works and adds five others.

The centerpiece of the record are those first three pieces, known as "Sluggin' Fer Jesus (Parts One, Two and Three)."  The backbone of these recordings are radio broadcasts of evangelical preachers, most notably the late Gene Scott, who did his "work" in Los Angeles and, in later use, had his church in the old United Artists Theatre at the south end of the Broadway Theater District.  Scott's exhortations, laced with crude humor, sarcasm, threats, paranoia, and lots of other interesting psychological touchstones, are interestingly musically corollated by CV's menacing and disturbing, as well as highly appropriate, sounds.  The most memorable of Scott's meanderings might well be: "I don't want gifts tonight, I want sacrifice."

Following is a rendering of a tune that is one of the "early" Cabs' most notable, this being "Yashar."  A club version, remixed by Arthur Baker, became an underground dance hit, but this earlier rendering is pretty cool, if lesser known.

"Your Agent Man" has a simple, but catchy bass line from Mallinder, who chants his vocals as if a robot while Kirk and Watson apply various sound effects from guitar, synthesizer and other devices.

To this listener, the highlight of Eight Crepuscule Tracks is "Gut Level," which is a nine-minute workout with a funky bass line, propulsive percussion, a scratchy guitar line, echoed sax lines and other cool effects, carried along with recorded film dialogue in which one man castigates another for selling drugs to youngsters.  Someone undoubtedly knows the film from which this pinched dialogue emanates and might want to leave a clarifying comment.

"Invocation" has a haunting, repetitive theme with a muted drum machine beat, vague "found sound" voice samples, and a great synthsizer sound, as well.

Then comes the "out of left field" closer, a cover of Isaac Hayes' number one tune, "Theme from 'Shaft'," the classic blaxploitation film from 1971 starring Richard Roundtree that later spawned such sequels as "Shaft in Africa." Hearing two white English electronic artists covering a song with the lyric: "he's a black private dick / who's a sex machine / to all the chicks" and other choice lyrical offerings is hilarious and probably intentionally so, though the Cabs were avowed lovers of funk and soul.

Eight Crepuscule Tracks has been a consistent item on this blogger's CV playlist since the cassette version was acquired on the album's 1988 release and a fond recollection is of playing the "Sluggin' Fer Jesus" trilogy to a friend and coworker who was a religion major in school and did some ministry for his church in New York.  It spawned some interesting discussions in a parked car of a restaurant parking lot in 1988 and the record still resonates with this listener today.

Cabaret Voltaire:  Eight Crespuscule Tracks (Giant Records, 1988)

1.  Sluggin' Fer Jesus (Part One)  4:44
2.  Sluggin' Fer Jesus (Part Two)  3:55
3.  Fools Game—Sluggin' Fer Jesus (Part Three)  6:49
4.  Yashar  5:02
5.  Your Agent Man  2:49
6.  Gut Level  9:08
7.  Invocation  6:04
8.  Theme from "Shaft"  4:02

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