Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope.
It was one of countless similar songs published for the beneﬁt of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever… But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound.
George Orwell / Nineteen-Eighty-Four
And there were records released, too. Those untrussed from sentimentality. Those where the composition is courtesy of the coil and kick of inspiration (even if the technical specifics were enhanced by mechanical means). There are segments of Nineteen-Eighty-Four that read like prescience, that prophetic are the undertones – the disreputability of the Chestnut Tree Café, the haunt of painters and musicians making out like any other greasy venue – but Orwell didn’t foresee Julian Cope ramping it up via not one, but two magnificent albums.
In other book-related news, Émile Zola never wrote about Tocsin by X-Mal Deutschland or the début Dead Can Dance album. Talk Talk’s It’s My Life would be supplanted in my affections by later material, just as Little Dorrit didn’t listen to this record on her Sony Walkman. And whilst Bret Easton Ellis did mention U2 in American Psycho (who hasn’t he name-checked?), I’ve always considered 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire…well; forgettable.
Awkward literary references aside, I Often Dreams Of Trains by Robyn Hitchcock is a beautiful wee album. Cathartic to record, its gentle, acoustic-driven arcs perfectly segue with the former Soft Boy’s trademark, wry humour. Something balanced, of beauty. As is Rattlesnakes, the début from Lloyd Cole And The Commotions. Poised, elegant, bookended by two tracks – ‘Perfect Skin’; ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?’ – that exemplify the warm, enfolding intelligence rampant in Cole’s back catalogue. It’s easy – perhaps even facile – to arrive at a comment such as album as statement. But that’s the thing about ’84; label it vogue, file away under nuance; this is a year where the significant releases were deep and alluring. Nick Cave’s From Her To Eternity. Felt’s predominately instrumental The Splendour Of Fear.
The strange thing about Treasure, the third Cocteau Twins album, is that if not exactly disowned, guitarist / producer Robin Guthrie has certainly distanced himself from it:
I’ve always detested Treasure. Not because of the record, but because of the vibe at the time, when we were pushed into all that kind of arty-farty Raphaelite bullshit.
There’s a degree of the counter-intuitive to this statement, if only because it’s so difficult to liberate record from vibe when – at least from this remote, twenty-first century vantage – they’re symbiotic constructs. And whilst the texture and trappings of this album do point to a very ’80’s interpretation of ethereality, there’s something here that enchants. A playfulness framed by sincerity, the iconography of sound. The type of record that, should I be running with some strained novel theme, would be accompanied by that evocative scene from Iain Banks’ The Crow Road, in which the protagonists get stoned in a rick uncle’s observatory, and with Cocteau Twins blaring from the stereo, try to discern Liz Fraser’s fuzzy, engrossing vocal.
Hyaena by Siouxsie And The Banshees – released in 1984, with Robert Smith on guitar. The Top. By the Cure – with Robert Smith on pretty much everything.
And then there’s The Smiths. The degree of subject matter that could be entertaining us for quite some time – hence a specifically succinct reference to the début, eponymous album. With an LP release in the three subsequent years, the agenda may become dominated in the near future. So for now I’ll plant the admittance that I was far too preoccupied buying synth-pop records in 1984, thus totally missing out on the sudden realignment of intelligent, meaningful guitar-based songcraft that must have hit the moment like a revelation.
I like The Smiths, but I wouldn’t consider this the year’s most successful, sensual album. That’ll be World Shut Your Mouth. Or perhaps Fried. Two breathtaking releases, bedecked with swagger, thought-provoking poses, a psychedelia that’s gentle and life-affirming (World…) or caustically rockola (Fried), and both rescued adroitly by Julian Cope from the detritus of The Teardrop Explodes. These feature some of his best work; ‘Metranil Vavin’ (as featured here), the spiky notions of ‘Bill Drummond Said’, the Brighton Rock of ‘Kolly Kibber’s Birthday’, and ‘Reynard the Fox’, an orthodox opener that sets the tone in a delicous, almost unhinged fashion. I probably change my mind about which album is superior every thirty minutes… so probably best to declare a tie.
Lloyd Cole And The Commotions / Perfect Skin
Cocteau Twins / Pandora (For Cindy)
Julian Cope / Laughing Boy