James, Soup Dragons produce vibrant new LPs
The Soup Dragons.
Big Life Records.
By SANDE CHEN
WITH THE AID OF THEIR SINGLE, "I'm Free" (featuring Junior Reid) -- a cover of the B-side of The Rolling Stones' "Get Off of My Cloud" -- the Soup Dragons have definitely conquered the alternative charts. Their newest album, Lovegod, blazed ahead to debut at No. 7 in the UK, and last week "I'm Free" reached the No. 1 spot on MTV's "120 Minutes" countdown. Meanwhile, another song, "Mother Universe" (which has yet to premiere in Boston) is sliding quickly up New York alternative charts.
Surprisingly, this Glasgow garage-rock band only had their debut on Sire Records (This is My Art) in 1988. Soon afterwards, the Dragons quit the major label, frustrated with a lack of freedom, and returned to the indies.
"Backwards Dog," a raving, loose number, appeared previously as a single in 1989 on Big Life Records, and "Crotch Deep Trash" is the title track from the band's second album.
Lovegod, for the most part, is a wonderful burst of energy, definitely not for New Age enthusiasts. Voiceovers and tiny snatches of pliable telephone dialogue appear in almost every song as cohesive paste. Active guitars, acid-tinged lyrics, and neat synthesizer tricks congeal to good effect.
The title track, "Lovegod," is perhaps one of the better songs, even though lead vocalist/songwriter Sean Dickson's voice is raspier than usual. Lyrics are short and direct. "Lovegod Dub" is a longer, more danceable version, and "Mother Universe" also contains dance possibilities.
Others -- "Dream-E-Forever" and portions of "Sweatmeat" -- are psychedelic dream sequences. Another song, "Softly," is slow and touching ("Every time I see your face/ You know I softly die").
The rest, brash and engaging, runs the more conventional gamut. "Kiss the Gun" leads in with sound effects similar to Doctor Who's TARDIS departing. "Drive the Pain," "I Love You to Death," and "Beauty Freak" all fall into this category.
UNLIKE THE SOUP DRAGONS, Manchester's James have yet to receive the recognition they richly deserve. Their start in 1983 with Factory Records led to a deal with Sire Records in 1985, generating two albums, Stutter and Strip Mine. They too left Sire, releasing 1989's One Man Clapping on Rough Trade. Their newest effort, GoldMother, hopefully will propel these rock veterans to success.
GoldMother is a well-crafted and splendid album. Much like that other Manchester band the Smiths, James explores the perversity of human nature. One could naturally progress from the Smiths to James without noting vast differences. Indeed, James' earliest claim to fame is the Smiths' cover of their single "What's the World" from the EP Village Fire.
One difference between the two bands might be the inclusion of trumpets. They add a melodic flair that is evident in "Crescendo." Amazingly, even though "Crescendo" is rather long (6:59), it is not even noticeable that there is only one discernable lyric -- aptly, "I'm afraid of loneliness swallowing me." James pulls this off better than the Smiths did in "Never Had No One Ever" from The Queen is Dead.
James has already garnered a club hit in the UK with "Come Home." The next single, the fantastic "How Was It For You," debuted No. 16 on UK charts and seems intent on following.
James' moody songs are a mixture of steady rhythms, pleading lyrics, and haunting melodies. "Hang On," an excellent track, is a dizzy cauldron of passions. Lead vocalist/songwriter Tim Booth asks, "Why are we fighting when we should be close to a wedding?/ . . . we should be in our hearts, not at our throats." In "Top of the World," Tim Booth achieves a tenderness Morrissey of the Smiths could never accomplish.
In "God Only Knows," a televangelist amusingly warns the listener about the Satanic influences in rock music. Later, after a barrage of anti-televangelist sentiment, the priest says:
I damn you all to hell
I speak in the name of God
I know him intimately
I speak in the name of that
White-haired old man in the clouds
Always a man.
Booth counters, commenting, "Is Heaven full, oh Lord, of these babbling preachers and God-fearing bigots?/ Well, I know where I'd rather be."
"Government Walls," equally cynical, calls for an end to censorship in societies, while "You Can't Tell How Much Suffering (On a Face That's Always Smiling)" addresses societal hypocrisy. "Walking the Ghost," another track, is sensitive and reflective.
The title track, "GoldMother," is a departure from typical James form. With backing vocals by Inspiral Carpets, "GoldMother" is more upbeat and pouncing.
All in all, James' GoldMother is one album definitely worth checking out.