The Perfect Christmas Presents
If only they had recorded just that one song ... pt 2
It's been an ´ell of a week. Well it has. But my week's been brightened up at least by listening to lots of people with names starting with L. Like the lovely lost Linda Lewis' legacy from her days at Reprise in the early ´70s. And if she had only recorded just that one song, the gloriously spiritual title track ´Reach For The Truth',
I would still have her sitting at a seat of honour at any gathering of
the pop greats.
Then there's the Liaisons Dangereuses set salvaged from the early ´80s, which is a must for anyone interested in the evolution of electronic music and how it became techno. This is lovely harsh noise, great German pop, with DAF connections, and it's also an area that deserves deeper delving. Incidentally will someone please salvage the Malaria recordings from around the same time?
The real treat of the week though was getting hold of the Lizzy Mercier Descloux reissues which the born again Ze set-up have presented us with, just in time for the perfect Christmas. As the re-emergence of these records has not been heralded on the front pages of every paper, it falls to me to say these are (with the Wild Swans' set) the most important salvage operations you will have heard all year.
Lizzy was one of the Ze queens (along with Lydia Lunch and Cristina) who following the punk liberation brightened up the pop world and opened up all sorts of possibilities by simply throwing the rule book out the window. Lizzy's own story is one of the best there is. After the punk explosion she moved from Paris to New York, and became a part of the downtown arts scene that nurtured the no wave set and all sorts of artistic antagonism. The recordings she made for soulmate Michel Esteban's Ze label at that time as Rosa Yemen then the pioneering Press Color collection rank among the greatest ever.
And yet still the focus is on the glamour and brilliance of Serge, Jane Birkin, Brigitte Fontaine, Francoise Hardy, Nancy Sinatra and Laura Nyro, which is right and proper, but I want to see Lydia, Cristina, and most of all Lizzy up there with them.
So hopefully these reissues will tackle this injustice. You only have to sit down and be blasted by the hairdryer treatment of the Rosa Yemen yelps of defiance to be reminded of why you're alive. Ten minutes of guitars in a dogfight with gritty guttaral commentary, as wonderful as Teenage Jesus, Fire Engines and the closely related Ut.
The Rosa Yemen recordings are tagged onto the Press Color set and housed in a gorgeous digipak. Press Color itself was recorded at the studios of Bob Blank, the lab where Ze delights were wondrously created, in early 1979, and to say it's mutant disco may be to state the obvious but remember Lizzy was there first and surely should get the credit for doing so.
Anyone who has the exceptional Ze collections from earlier this year, NY No Wave and Mutant Disco, will have several of these songs, but that's no excuse for not getting the whole thing and putting everything in the right context.
Myself, I think her follow up set Mambo Nassau is even better, and one of the most riotously exuberant recordings ever made. Created in the Bahamas during 1980 at Compass Point before every Tom Tom, Dick and Harry did so, it throws into the mix everything you can think of, and sounds at times like Fela's Afrika 70 getting their James Chance mixed up with their James Brown. If Press Color had hints of highlife guitars and African rhythms then the whole thing explodes on Mambo Nassau as Lizzy romps and rants and seduces and snarls.
Again Lizzy was way ahead of her time, but she captures a freedom and fluidity that others like the Raincoats, Slits, Essential Logic, LiLiPUT would capture too. And to complete that circle Lizzy would record a few songs in 1982 with the UK pop underground's alchemist Adam Kidron, which display an explicit South African influence and are delightfully included as bonus tracks here.
I would suggest too these reissues are worth buying alone for the lovely Lizzy pictures, and the wonderfully mad Mau Mau Machuki sleevenotes. Interestingly, too, the Mambo Nassau booklet includes quotes from a Chris Burkham review in Sounds, the forgotten weekly music paper. I have argued vigorously that in the early ´80s Sounds with Dave McCullough more than equalled the NME's big hitters like Paul Morley and Ian Penman in the heyday of music journalism. I am therefore ashamed to say I had forgotten Burkham's contribution to the cause. His review captures the spirit of the time, but whatever became of him? I like the fact the Sounds writers disappeared from view while the NME boys blunder on. Harsh I know, but you know what I mean.
Which reminds me, what did become of Lizzy?
© 2003John Carney