The phrase “art-school” is flung around these parts with a great deal of regularity. Sometimes it’s a euphemism for overblown. Flouncy, lacking sincerity. On other occasions, it signifies intrigue, something artistically and attractively subversive targeted towards established norms.
There’s no set instructions for declaring “art-school”; I do so because my mood is fickle – and as I usually write whilst in the process of inebriation, the meaning and application of words becomes more fluid than perhaps it should be (don’t say you haven’t noticed; usually these posts begin in a blaze of dexterous wordplay, before fading rapidly towards tangent, disinterest and double vision).
What this whole “art-school” sentiment permits, however, is a certain ambiguity of meaning. It’s a contradictory phrase that describes Eno-era Roxy Music twice over, a simple summation illustrating both allure of sound and the construction-worker-in-drag aesthetic that they dragged around after themselves.
Which brings us to today’s featured act; semi-forgotten vaudevillian melodrama – named after a pioneering and slightly mysterious Victorian illusionist – that couldn’t have been more “art-school” if it had spent its days travelling around Brighton on a tricycle with ostrich feathers protruding from its fluorescent trilby.
David Devant And His Spirit Wife were a brief fad back in ’97 or ’98; performance art inclinations, and a début album of driven-yet-whimsical indie-pop that hasn’t aged particularly gracefully.
Their second album, though – 1999’s Shiney on the Inside (sic) – is a great deal more ambitious. There’s still the impression that, whilst attempting to contact the spectral spouse, they’ve instead channelled the spirit of Anthony Newley. There’s still the dated sound, the posturing that’s too clever for its own-good, but it’s all executed on a far larger scale – grandiose “art-school”, if you like – and whilst I’m not going to kid on that this is in any way a great record, its intended scope (the prog-rock inferences, the melodic energy) does make it a record of interest.
David Devant And His Spirit Wife / Take A Deep Breath