Formed in London around 1980, the Legendary Pink Dots relocated to Amsterdam in the middle of the decade, using that city as the basis for an enormously productive and diverse career that — despite clear crypto-pop accessibility amid occasionally excessive psychedelic exotica — has remained well below commercial radar. Proceeding out of a hodgepodge of gloomy/fringey/hippie antecedents — Joy Division, Syd Barrett, Faust, etc. — but adding a classical sensibility, involuted mythology, found-sound sampling weirdness, plus all sorts of stylistic cross-mingling and experimentation, Edward Ka- Spel (vocals, lyrics, keyboards), Phil Knights (aka The Silver Man; keyboards) and a shifting collection of associates have turned the Legendary Pink Dots into an open- ended adventure. Although certainly prone to enigmatic risk- taking, the enormously resourceful LPD is a mellifluous and dynamically restrained proposition: this is one dip into the rock netherworld that won’t send you running for cover. The lyrics, however — a disturbing onslaught of doom, violence and apocalypse — are a different story.
After years of Europe-only releases, the Dots issued the Stone Circles compilation, an introductory essay of selected album tracks and one new track. With the ice thus melted, all of the group’s subsequent albums have been issued Stateside (save for the limited-edition Legendary Pink Box set: three albums’ worth of rarities, unreleased items, alternate versions and compilation contributions).
Opening with a majestic church organ that suddenly goes all wobbly, Any Day Now is a lovely album of songs with strong (dare it be said — catchy?) melodies and a blend of electro-pop and classical arrangements. Ka-Spel’s preternaturally calm multi-tracked singing helps focus the diverse instrumentation, which includes violin, horns and harmonium; real-world sound effects add a strong dramatic element.
Lyrically, The Golden Age is a concept drama about a psychopath stalking his former lover, a model (?) who taunts him from the TV screen and magazine pages. The chilly and suavely spare continental music — imagine a dessicated version of the Pet Shop Boys — does little to distract from Ka-Spel’s nearly dissolute delivery, which wavers in and out of Gary Numanesque melodrama. Elegantly, deceptively powerful.
Several tracks on The Crushed Velvet Apocalypse — a pleasant but creatively anemic outing — interrupt scenes of pastoral musical beauty with musique concrète noises; “The Green Gang” runs sitar/tabla meanderings into twittering flutes and winds up building a quietly disturbing skein of motorway noise. “The Death of Jack the Ripper” — an artfully lurid, slow-paced horror tale accompanied by the electronic sound of water dripping — comes as a grisly jolt on an album that begins with “I Love You in Your Tragic Beauty,” an affectingly sad acoustic-guitar-plus-accordion pop song that strongly suggests the TV Personalities, and ends with the offbeat but enticing “New Tomorrow.”
The Dots expend more effort on The Maria Dimension, a highly imaginative but relatively straightforward (for this decidedly bent group) and consistently engrossing collection that romps ambitiously — and, more often than not, successfully — through colorful ’60sish psychedelia, electronics, disconcerting sound effects and baroque pop. A most entertaining and stimulating trip.
Besides making a handful of solo albums, the prolific Ka-Spel collaborated with members of Skinny Puppy on the Tear Garden album.