Many posts hereabouts take as a reference point the relationship between listener and song (or collections of song, if you’re being pedantic). It’s because certain records exist as a constant. Shadows, presences, background radiation – individual filaments of songcraft that engage in some kind of chemical reaction whenever they connect with individual perception. Residues are left behind. Strands of memory become entwined within the bulk of verse-chorus-verse.
As with any relationship, the complexities are deep, buried, personal, and constantly shifting – two foreign objects grinding together in an embrace of audio friction. Bonds moulded by experience. Hidden nuance etched across our time-frames – if you listened to an album relentlessly at a formative age; contexts that pointed you towards the person you’ve since become – you can’t help but to feel some base affinity with that record even if the armaments of personal taste now point elsewhere.
Thus Carved In Sand, which I bought on day of release, and played on heavy rotation to such an extent that every chord, lyric, and rip against tom-tom skin is somehow seared across my personality. Because lurking somewhere in our shared dystopian future is a gurgling slack-jawed version of LGM, brain turned to wallpaper paste, and the only piece of communication that’ll leak from his chapped, arid lips will be the lyrics to ‘Butterfly On A Wheel’, recited verbatim.
I should point out that this is far from the only album that comprises the bones of my closeted musical skeleton. It’s also something that hasn’t comprised regular listening material for a more than a decade – and to be honest, it sounds like one of those records discarded in the desert for a similar amount of time (even if I don’t have to play it to acknowledge the fact).
The Mission aren’t a band that necessarily translate well from late ‘80’s / early ‘90’s source material. It’s in the over-earnest patchouli-scented lyrics, the obsolete guitar phraseology, the posture. The first problem with Carved In Sand is opening salvo ‘Amelia’ – which somewhat uncharacteristically doesn’t bury the subject matter in waves of metaphor: Daddy says, “don’t tell momma what I did to you”.
Child abuse is a brave statement to make as album opener, but this track plays the narrative head on, as a passive observer. Nobody sane is going to write a pro-child abuse song, and by pitching this at such a straight angle (rather than, for example, taking a more obtuse approach – slanted, perhaps, a first person account of twisted humanity) the sentiment feels somewhat clunky, one-dimensional, a shade trite.
The rest of the album mines more predictable territory; new age passion, personal struggle, all delivered in flowery lexicography and dense, brooding production. Thus – problem #2 – the opening track sits at thematic odds with what comes next. Conversely, all of the instrumentation (including ‘Amelia’) is in thrall to a rich yet mono-textual groove (also known as problem #3). Layers of acoustic and 12 string guitar planted atop a driving, occasionally grinding rhythm section, and all this filtered through folk-rock touches, hard-rock clinches, and the odd garnish of vaguely Eastern mysticism.
All of this provides Carved In Sand with a relentless, sonically unambiguous quality. A suite of songs that may work when studied individually become defined by template and stylistic convention when considered as a whole (it’s an album that sounds like its cover; it’s a meal in which every course served is a cake doused in too much brandy). It’s more introverted than Children, its better-known predecessor – softer landings and more rounded edges – but the number of problems don’t stop at three.
Because then there’s the words; Wayne Hussey’s smoky, alluring vocal possessing a little too much gravitas for the simple and hackneyed lyrics it occasionally finds itself singing. And by simple and hackneyed read embarrassing, courtly-love hocus pocus that at its flimsiest wouldn’t be out of place in the worst kind of fantasy novel. For every attempt at solemnity and insight (particularly the Steinbeck timbre of ‘Grapes Of Wrath’) there’s the ham-fisted imagery of ‘Into The Blue’ – Candle flames and razor blades, dancing through the poppy fields – and the cod-Arthurian embarrassment of ‘Deliverance’ – Let me sleep for a while and dream of Avalon being one of the more profound lines (this latter track is also remarkably similar in construction to ‘The Temple Of Love” by The Sisters Of Mercy – as if a shared band genesis reaches out like a stigma).
Strands of memory become entwined within the bulk of verse-chorus-verse I wrote at the top of the page. And here-in lies the crux behind this record; these many words represent a convincing argument for mailing my vinyl copy directly to some mist-hazed Camelot populated by maidens and long-haired earnest types in wide-brimmed hats, without a return address on the label (or maybe the bin). That it will remain in the LGM pile of sound (albeit rarely played) is testament to that relationship between listener and song – longevity and intensity should never be under-estimated. I am my record collection.
The Mission / Deliverance