Sad Lovers and Giants: Where The Light Shines Through 1981-2017 – album review
Sad Lovers and Giants: Where The Light Shines Through 1981-2017
Released April 28 April 2017
Five CD exhaustive box set running the gamut of the career of Watford based band Sad Lovers and Giants, featuring discs devoted to their singles, their first and second line-ups and various oddities recorded over the years…..Ian Canty resolves his memory blank with the help of this handsomely presented and thorough compilation………..
Though formed in 1980 during the early years of my record buying activities, I have to admit that at the time Sad Lovers And Giants almost completely passed me by. I was aware of their name but that is about it, I cannot really recall hearing any of their songs back then. They recorded for the Midnight Music label and I can remember buying and enjoying records on that imprint by the Pop Guns and the Wolfhounds, but never once thinking to sample the delights that their label mates the Giants might have had to offer. They remained an enigma to me (and possibly to most of the general public) until I received this box set for review. I’m glad I had this opportunity to “catch up”, because as it turned out they knocked out some sterling New Wave/Post Punk in their time and developed a sound unlike any other.
Thankfully for complete novices to the world of Sad Lovers And Giants, the first disc here is a singles collection. This helps one get a good idea of the aims of the band, ranging from their early beginnings, right up to some tracks laid down by the reformed version of SLAGs last year. On first hearing it seemed to me like the Giants have plenty to offer fans of outfits like the Cure, the Smiths and Teardrop Explodes, without sounding that much like any of them. There are slight Gothic undertones, Marr-like guitar breaks, some rhythms that could have nestled comfortably in “Seventeen Seconds” and early Teardrop soaring keyboards, but they manage at all times to maintain their own identity.
Right back on their first single “Imagination” they arrived with a determined sense of purpose and fully formed. Dreamy but edgy Pop, like a David Lynch flick with a New Wave soundtrack. “When I See You” manages to marry the fashionable Electropop sound of the early 80s to wistful Psychedelia, with singer Garce Allard’s unrushed, almost crooning style complimenting the icy musical landscape. As the years moved on I’m sure the band changed but the leap from 1982 to 2016’s “Beauty Is Truth” isn’t that great. Garnished with a giddy torrent of guitars “Beauty” is a Pop epic that could have come from the time way back when the phrase “Independent music” actually meant something, rather than last year.
There are dynamic injections of pace on “Man Of Straw” and the beautiful and moving “Himalaya” with both providing evidence they just were not happy to “go with the flow” of Indie Pop, the sound of the band positively gleaming and the often theatrical delivery of Allard adding to the prevalent sense of intrigue. “Seven Kinds Of Sin” is steeped in the Liverpool Psych of the early 80s, despite their Hertfordshire roots, with a great guitar line and some sweeping keyboards. It’s gorgeous.
The second disc of this collection gives us the two albums that the original line up recorded together “Epic Garden Music” and “Feeding The Flame”, released in 1982 and 1983 respectively. The debut mini-LP has eight tracks which finds that early on SLAGs had a unique and self-possessed way of going about things along with an aptitude for the employment of atmosphere and drama. The spine-chilling and spindly guitar line on “Lope” would normally be in line with standard Goth, but for some lovely early-Teardrops style keyboards adding another level, away from mere misery mongering.
The record bristles with adventure and “Feeding The Flame” seems a totally natural progression. “An Another Day” might not make sense but it is a touching ballad, wistful and with a lovely ringing guitar motif that wouldn’t have appeared out of place on “C86”. “Vendetta” is quite wonderful too, sparingly using instrumentation in an atmospheric and entrancing way with the sparse usage of vocals topping it off nicely, it is an exercise in restraint. Overall for me it’s a slightly stronger album than the first, the band feel more confident as they stretch out to accommodate Allard’s lyrical flights of fancy.
During 1987 there were big line up changes in the band, with only Allard and drummer Pollard surviving. Though having major players in their original sound with guitarist Tristan Garel-Funk and sax/keyboard player David Wood absconding to new outfit the Snake Corps, the Giants carried on without major deviation and it is this new aggregation that take up CDs 3 and 4. Having said that I thought there was a very summery and Pop feeling to “A Map Of My World” and “Wire Lawn” (from “The Mirror Test (Redux)” the 2011 remix of the original 1987 LP), suggesting that 1987 found the band belying their slightly doomy origins. They never lost sight of the need for tunes whatever the mood, “Learn” from the 2002 comeback album “Melting In the Fullness Of Time” hits the spot, a lovely rush of sound after a slightly “out of tune” guitar intro.
Earlier, on the previous LP “Headland”, they showed themselves as the unlikeliest challengers to Slade in the festive pop charts with the Smiths-like and Folk influenced “Christmas On Easter Island”. Though the later albums featured on disc 4 had their highpoints Sad Lovers And Giants had established their sound and weren’t looking to take many risks at this point in time – can’t blame them and while they never turned out anything that wasn’t elegantly crafted and musically ornate, you do may well wish this far in that they would cut loose just a bit more.
The final disc here is an assortment of tracks recorded down the years that never found a home anywhere else, early recording,s radio sessions, flipsides and alternate takes. Rather like the pale and interesting shadow of the first disc to coin a phrase. After the band getting a little comfortable in their ways on the last couple of albums this is an invigorating blast of energy. “50:50”, “The Change” and “Take Me Inside” bring a welcome tinge of aggression and immediacy, it is no exaggeration to say that these tracks are among the best featured upon the whole collection. We soon move onto a sparky Peel Session from 1984 where they expertly remodel a couple of tracks from their debut album and also knock out a couple of choice rarities in “Sex Without Gravity” and “There Was No Time”. Good stuff.
After a couple more rarities (including “A Reflected Dream”, which resembles a little the more “pop” efforts of the Cure, recorded with fellow near-Gothers the Essence), we return to radio land again with a session “live in the studio” from Dutch station Radio Hilversum in 1986. Again the band sound well “up for it” and “Echoplay” and “Cowboys” rival their studio takes for excitement and style, with invited audience obviously enjoying the experience. This whole disc is pretty much a delight and ends the collection on a real high.
In summary, this is a lot of Sad Lovers And Giants for a newcomer to have to get their teeth into, but persisting will ultimately pay dividends. The “Singles” and “Foundlings” discs provide the perfect intro to the band and if listening to all of it in one sitting may prove rather too much for the novice (which is true when faced with 5 discs of any act new to one, I suppose), taking a slow introduction into the Giants over a number of days will help to display the true worth of their oeuvre. Sad Lovers and Giants managed to unite 60s Pop Psychedelia with various strands of After-Punk music in an appealing and somewhat peculiar way. Here is a golden opportunity to take a leisurely stroll down their very individual career path.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here