Time. Does strange things to reputation. Records ignored by cultural mass can be resurrected should the wind change. An act exalted by talent and serendipity one week can slip beneath the waves of attention the next. It’s a process of attrition; as a listenership we’re frequently fickle, yet at other times our loyalties strain notions of credibility. The maths of why we listen gets blown about, and all of this is neither good, bad nor indifferent but simply is, a presence, like Midge Ure’s moustache in the video for ‘Vienna’.
Curve. Always a coming back, going away affair; in an era in which the Kentish Town Forum, the Birmingham Academy or Barrowlands in Glasgow have on the bill yet another yesterday band, Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia (plus associated accomplices) aren’t showing face (at least yet). Perhaps performing Doppelgänger in its entirety to a crowd of blowhards in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s (95% male, almost all of whom haven’t entirely gotten over their crush on the lead singer) isn’t their bag. Maybe no-one would even turn up.
Would their 1992 album even work live, considering that much of the allure was fostered by multi-tracking and mixing desk jiggery-pokery?
Indeed; is 1992 still a thing?
That I’ve owned the duo’s debut LP for coming up to twenty-three years makes a great deal of sense, and also none at all. Doppelgänger sounds like it was released in ’92. A child of its decade (or a collection of dismembered dolls of its decade, should we run with album artwork as theme). The production values are giveaway; you could even label it template: fuzzy, proto-abrasive guitar licks fed through banks of sequencers, the distortion looped amidst samples, drum machine, and Halliday’s sultry, enigmatic dispassionate cooing. Produced by Flood and featuring fellow knob-twiddler Alan Moulder on some old instrument or other, this is a record that, were we listening for the first time, occupies the exact space our modern ears would predict it would.
That’s not a compliment, by the way. Neither is it criticism. More an admission of how clean the angles are on this. An album that pre-dates the Garbage debut by a handful of years, but also one that suffers from the exactly the same mono-textural conditioning. The same devotion to now-obsolete hardware. The allegiance to a single tempo, programmed bass and sequenced drums carted from one song to another as if on hire from a builder’s merchants.
Which works well on the headline tracks. ‘Faît Accompli’ rides across its bruising momentum, Toni Halliday pouting her way through to dénouement as Garcia’s guitar wafts and wails in vague, industrial metal posture. Even better, ‘Horror Head’ deploys two jarring sets of chord structures – chorus verses verse – to backlight the vocal in all sorts of enticing patterns: “There’s a horror in my head / when the blanket is gone / from the floor of my castle / where I see the sun from”. It’s front-woman as male fantasy figure, and Ms Halliday exploits this to the max, a breathy composure enhanced by her own looped backing vox for that sculptural, Madonna/whore effect.
The rest of the album however, and that’s where you begin to spot the flaw in the aesthetic. It’s all a bit same-y. Synthetic, even, any subtlety washed away by Flood’s cloying production. Opener ‘Already Yours’ copies the opposing chord sequence theme. ‘Wish You Dead’ bleeds into the title track, bleeds into ‘Lillies Dying’, to the point where the listener is no longer certain which is which. ‘Ice That Melts the Tips’ features a cute hey, hey, hey chorus, but even then it’s hardly a startlingly novel idea. And perhaps most damning of all, almost every item included here (‘Ice That Melts…’ especially) is something that you can easily imagine turning up as a Eurythmics b-side – right down to the Annie Lennox annunciation (coincidence or no, Curve were signed to Dave Stewart’s Anxious label, and recorded much of their material at Church, his Crouch End studio complex).
All of which doesn’t make Doppelgänger a bad album. (indeed, I played it to death back in ’92). Perhaps a predictable album – even down to the slow-motion finale that is ‘Sandpit’, again doing exactly as forecast. Which is a pity should you suspect that there’s something wider lurking beneath the positioning. Curve as singles band, maybe (yes; and for example; Pubic Fruit, the collection of pre- Doppelgänger EPs, is a more enticing, less forced listen). Time does strange things to reputation, or so I’ve heard. Meanwhile, another record disappears below the waterline (at least until they inevitably reform).