Cherry Red continues to re-issue some cool, classic, interesting albums. Louder Than War’s Joe Whyte takes a listen to a new/old one from Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard.
Rowland S. Howard was probably the most innovative guitarist of his time. Joining the fledgling Boys Next Door (who morphed into the uncompromising Birthday Party) with Nick Cave, Mick Harvey et al, his ear-bleedingly trebly rockabilly/surf licks, apocalyptic feedback and squalling slabs of white noise were an integral part of their sound.
His tall, scarecrow figure, explosion of jet black hair, cigarette ash complexion and psychotic blue-eyed stare was seen once and never forgotten.
During the short, violent and turbulent life of the Birthday Party, Howard and Noo Yawk No Wave noise queen Lydia Lunch teamed up romantically and musically. Initially an improvisational/confrontational duo opening on Birthday Party tours of the time, they quickly added co-conspirators and recorded a couple of fantastic but long-lost albums. This, the second full release (originally from â91) sees Howard and Lunch mining some quite beautifully scarred material.
Opener “Burning Skulls” has a rolling, strutting bass line, atop which Howardâs piercing guitar sounds like a knife to the soul. Lunch, who despite the noise-nik reputation, is clearly something of a singer, leads the band into a deathly, haunting blues.
Covering the gospel standard “In My Time Of Dying” (also Led Zep-ed in its day) is a brave move. Thankfully, this disparate band of ghouls handle it, if not delicately, with a sensitivity, whilst still lending it the gravitas and sheer desperation that the lyrics suggest.
“Pigeon Town” is a murder ballad set to a driving, searing arrangement and sparkly production courtesy of Foetus mainman Jim Thirwell. Lunch winds her tale through a variety of unpleasant encounters and characters as the song lurches to a conclusion. Howardâs guitar is a starshell of shrieks, tremolo note bends and some extremely melodic surges amidst the carnage. Howard understood the concept of the gaps between the notes being as important as the ones you play and the economy of his playing is a thing of great beauty.
The inclusion of single “Some Velvet Morning” on the re-release is a real treat. The old Nancy and Lee standard is gleefully taken apart and turned into a nightmarish, opiated nursery rhyme with added lust.
There are a couple of live tracks tacked on to the end, including a cursory run-through of Creedanceâs “Run Through The Jungle” but the album itself has that classic feel and they seem somewhat unnecessary.
The overriding feel of the album is of mortality, love and death. Given Howardâs untimely passing in 2010, and Lydia Lunchâs unrequited feelings for the man, this stands as a towering testament to his art and talent.
You can find Lydia Lunch online at her official website. As someone known for going against the grain, she doesn’t appear to have a Facebook or twitter page! Totally rebellious! You might want to check out this cool tribute page to Rowland S Howard as well.
All words by Joe Whyte, more writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found here.