Emerging from the ashes of the Lemon Kittens (formed at Surrey University; 1979-’82), England’s Danielle Dax, Our Lady of the Arabic dance slink, has a voice like vanilla yogurt: cool, high and honey-sweet with a tartly mysterious flavor that keeps her work from sounding the slightest bit mainstream. From the old Hebrew inscription of her Awesome Records logo (apparently gibberish) through the lyrics on Inky Bloaters (where “Big Hollow Man” reaps the wages of his materialistic hypocrisy), there’s an underlying current of Biblical mysticism embedded in her work and an infectiously droney middle-Easternness to many of her melodies.
An eclectic collision between arty and rootsy, Dax’s work ranges from the almost scientifically crisp and clinical (“…In Wooden Brackets,” which she recorded while still a Lemon Kitten, introduces backward instrumental tracks to warbling pseudo-Chinese vocal chirps) to mutant blues/gospel. In “Evil-Honky Stomp,” from Jesus Egg That Wept, a moaning, off-kilter saxophone evokes images of Mississippi riverboats as she sings of branding slaves with all the sweetness of a Scarlett O’Hara wafting down a staircase.
The bright bop and twinkle of “Here Come the Harvest Buns” (included on both Jesus Egg and Pop-Eyes) bounces with perky electronic keyboard percussion, triangle and bottle plinks, disguising its dark message to cheating spouses: “Spin we go with a hi-de-ho, with a knee in the place where the hero roamed.” The sweeter she sounds, the more sinister her ideas. (The reissued version of Jesus Egg contains an additional track.)
Dax has a million sounds and at least as many visions to cram onto vinyl. After the utterly unaccompanied Pop-Eyes (amazingly recorded, using more than a dozen different instruments, on a 4-track tape machine!), her visions were explored with the help of collaborator Karl Blake, who shared vocals, writing, performing and production duties in the fecund Lemon Kittens. (He appears as a guest musician on Jesus Egg‘s “Ostrich”). Around 1984, she began to work with guitarist/keyboardist David Knight; he appears on some of Jesus Egg‘s tracks. Dax later added guitarist Ian Sturgess, who plays numerous other instruments, including jaw harp and harmonica, to her band.
The absolutely brilliant Inky Bloaters finds the Dax troika merrily plundering the sounds of the ’60s (as well as ancient slinky Middle Easternisms) with mock sitars, giddy fuzz guitars and a by-the-numbers songbook that helps recall everyone from Mungo Jerry (“Inky Bloaters”) to T. Rex (“Big Hollow Man”) to the Jefferson Airplane (“Brimstone in a Barren Land”). “Flashback” and “Sleep Has No Property” are among the enticing potions Dax delivers in this remarkably inventive stylistic encapsulation of the Woodstock generation.
The Janice Long Session, an impressive December 1985 radio showing by Dax plus four sidemen, features four selections from her extensive catalogue. Dax’s wavery singing lacks some of its usual studio flair and polish, but the version of “Fizzing Human Bomb” (from Inky Bloaters) is quite extraordinary.
Dark Adapted Eye, Dax’s excellent introduction to America, mixes more than half of Inky Bloaters (all the songs mentioned above except “Sleep”) with five new tunes, most notably the T. Rexy drama of “Cat-House” and the droney percussive pop of “Whistling for His Love.” Although the credits omit mention of Sturgess (seemingly a prominent figure on Inky Bloaters) in favor of newcomer Pete Farrugia, his contributions don’t appear to have been wiped off the tracks.
After such a string of wonderful records, Dax took a dive. A deeply disappointing commercial sell-out, the dreadful Blast the Human Flower (produced by Stephen Street) foolishly suppresses Dax’s eccentricity in anonymous modern guitar-rock performed by such trusted associates as Knight, Farrugia and Blake. Although relieved of its sinuous character, her voice is the album’s only familiar element — the nearly witless lyrics are no help. Having erased Dax’s boundless pan-culturalism, a routine sitar-house cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” lamely pays lip service to it.