Alex Gibson (vocals, guitar, main songwriter) led LA’s BPeople for several years around the turn of the decade. Beginning as the Little Cripples, the quartet (with the ubiquitous Paul Cutler on bass) turned into BPeople after singer Michael Gira left for New York (forming Circus Mort and then the Swans). The eponymous 1981 eight-song mini-album consists of dark, moody music somewhere between Joy Division and Soft Cell, neither as jarring or desperately distorted as the former, nor as pervasively pop as the latter. On the positive side, there’s smart use of sax and organ, but at times the music seems to be pulling in different directions, and poetic license should not be granted for lyrics like “We, they, it, that” (an actual line!).
Petrified Conditions — a full album of original recordings (some, but not all, previously issued on BPeople and other vinyl) remixed in 1984-’85 by Gibson and Paul B. Cutler — is a more convincing introduction to BPeople’s artsy sophistication. The sonic and stylistic variety is impressive, and Gibson’s songwriting displays structural abilities far beyond the punk club milieu in which the band existed. A worthwhile archaeological find.
After BPeople collapsed, Gibson wrote, singlehandedly performed and produced Passionnel, an excellent four-song 12-inch of wide-screen rock, made grandiose with timpani and long strains of synthesizer that lurk prominently in the near-background. Very English in sound — like Simple Minds or Ultravox — but not particularly derivative, Passionnel is a remarkable achievement for an individual, and a frighteningly good piece of theater in itself.
Not content with the confusion level his career had engendered up to that point, Gibson’s next move was to create a band called Passionnel. The Apostle (including a surprisingly straight cover of the Beatles’ “Glass Onion”) offers rhythmic rock of varying intensity, from even-handed (“Make Like You Like It”) to intense sheets of dense sound (“Everything Golden”), over which Gibson spills emotional, semi-tuneful vocals. Occasionally chaotic to the point of unpleasantness, elsewhere delicate and pretty, The Apostle is striking, but not always for the right reasons.
Gibson scored Penelope Spheeris’ punk film, Suburbia, the results of which occupy one side of the soundtrack album. Performed with only Passionnel’s drummer joining him, the music consists of brief, aggressive rock instrumentals that rely on drums for drive and sharp-edged guitar for flavor. Several pieces sound as if they might have been edited from a long jam session (hard to imagine given the size of the band); other portions create a somber, relaxed mood with synthesizer and piano.
Released under the Passionnel moniker, Our Promise pairs the contents of The Apostle on one side with five new tracks. Well-crafted, cleanly produced and varied (within Gibson’s limited musical field), the songs make some impact but leave only a faint impression.