Thursday, 13 March 2008


It would be overstating the case to claim that Bill Laswell's production work of the eighties has endured particularly well, though I ascribe its dated failings to the general preference for stifling mid-range treble to any meaningful bass response (ironic given the fact that he is a bass player). At the same time, however, it would be foolish to deny that "Rockit" or Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decode Yourself or the first Last Exit album or Sly and Robbie's Rhythm Killers - or the better parts of Material's One Down - are superb and significant records more than worth the work that will be involved in tracking down some of these twenty years later.

The Golden Palominos were the idea of drummer Anton Fier, and throughout their procession of eighties and nineties albums they made the fairly standard for the times move from post-no wave freeform shakeouts to metapop to agonised, nostalgic country rock to somewhere just behind Mazzy Star in the 1993 queue. Throughout Fier and Laswell indulged their what if/daydream group line-up fantasies, and they tended to work more often than not; their personnel stretched from Michael Stipe to Mick Taylor, from Sneaky Pete Kleinow via Bernie Worrell to Carla Bley.

"The Animal Speaks" was released in two versions, both utilising the same median punk-veering-on-BIGNESS backing track of stormy drums, migraine lead guitar and several strata of background nerve root intensity. The words are lost in a placid mid-eighties just before midnight storm, ice cubes mutating into daggers, searching for lust to conceal the real quest for an exit. "It's about how you move me and how I'd like to make you feel (but in your mind, charades?)" which quickly escalates (ahem) to the concealed prayer of "no one can save me if I cannot save myself."

One version is sung by Jack Bruce; he plays it as a somewhat cynical, overaged roue with a permanently eyebrow-raised delivery. He realises the futility of trying to find anything but can't help being tempted by it, for avoidance of any grey space which he would otherwise have to inhabit. He sounds as though trying to chat up Kelly McGillis on a wet Wednesday evening. Nothing more foolish than an old fool pretending to be in love, and well he knows it.

But the second version is sung by John Lydon, and from his initiation belch you can tell that he's already gone one door beyond; he screams, cries the tail of every line upwards like an unending borealis of fuckyouness. He sneers his "pretending not to know what it's all about," howls the "save myself" line with fearsome truthfulness, mourns his "alone, afraid, living as fast as I can," snorts his "Does the desperation show?" and only he makes that question rhetorical. As multiple guitar and Hammond organs burn behind him he goes down with this wretchedly rickety ship in the full knowledge that he will not drown but enter into a brighter and better world. His closing, extended, single breath rattle of a wail feels as though he's damming up "the eighties" forever. Metal Box meets Escalator eye to eye. It couldn't not have happened.